BOSTON — As Lung Cancer Awareness Month kicks off, the American Lung Association is urging long-time smokers to be screened for lung cancer, a test the advocacy group said is underutilized but has the potential to save 25,000 lives.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both women and men in America and has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at only 17.8 percent, according to the Lung Association. The organization estimated that 5,140 people in Massachusetts will be newly diagnosed with the deadly disease in 2018.
Screening people at high risk for lung cancer is relatively new, the Lung Association said, but allows doctors to catch the disease before it spreads, giving patients a far better prognosis. The screening is available at no cost through Medicaid and many health plans, the association said, but fewer than five percent of those eligible have been screened.
"We want to make sure that everyone who qualifies for screening knows it's an option, and that they can access screening in their communities," Amber Pelletier, director of health promotions for the American Lung Association in Massachusetts, said. "We're at a pivotal moment in addressing this disease, and we're working to spread the word about screening as it is literally lifesaving for so many people."
Screening is recommended for anyone between the ages of 55 and 80 who currently smokes, or who quit within the last 15 years and smoked the equivalent of 30 "pack years" — one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years and so on.
If the 8 million people eligible were screened, the Lung Association estimated 25,000 lung cancer deaths would be avoided.