This November, Paoli Hospital, part of Main Line
Health, and Fox Chase Cancer Center are celebrating National Lung Cancer
Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), more men and women in the United States die from lung
cancer than any other type of cancer. In fact, lung cancer is the number
one cause of cancer death in the United States. But until recently, no
screening methods had been deemed successful in detecting lung cancer at
earlier stages and reducing death from lung cancer.
That all changed last year when the United States Preventative Services
Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that individuals with specific risk
factors be screened annually after a study showed that low-dose CT scans
can reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent in high-risk patients.
“Lung cancer kills more people annually than prostate, breast and colon
cancers combined. Prostate, breast and colon cancer all have well
established and useful screening tests,” says Alicia
McKelvey, MD, thoracic surgeon at Main Line
Health Thoracic Surgery. “Now, we have the potential to reduce
mortality from lung cancer through early diagnosis, using screening
The low-dose CT scan of the lungs allows potential tumors to be
diagnosed earlier, which increases the likelihood of a long-term cure.
Although the radiation used during the screening presents a small risk,
the benefits far outweigh any potential consequences.
“It’s important to use low dose screening CT’s for lung cancer in the
appropriate patients,” says Dr. McKelvey.
What determines a high-risk patient?
There are two high-risk groups. Group one includes smokers between the
ages of 55–74 who have a 30-pack year history (one pack per day for 30
years or more), who are actively smoking or who have quit within the
past 15 years.
The second group includes those individuals who are 54–75 years old with
a 20-pack year or greater history, plus any additional risk factors,
like a family history of lung cancer, toxin exposure, a history of
chronic lung disease or patients with a prior history of other types of
cancer. If you fall into either group, Dr. McKelvey recommends talking
to your primary care physician about getting screened.
Although lung cancer screening will help detect lung cancer earlier, the
truth remains that the most effective way to avoid a lung cancer
diagnosis is to never start smoking.
Types of Lung Cancer
Two main types of lung cancer exist: non-small cell and small cell.
Non-small cell is the most common and affects about 85–90 percent of
patients, according to the ACS. About 10–15 percent of lung cancer cases
are small cell. The cancer cells are small as the name suggests, but
they can divide quickly to form large tumors and spread to lymph nodes
and other organs of the body.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- Nagging cough that does not go away or gets worse with time
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Repeated respiratory infections, including pneumonia and
For more information on lung cancer screening and treatment, visit