Many Mainers may be unaware that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of men and women in the U.S., accounting for about one in four cancer deaths. It is also the leading cancer killer in Maine. It is estimated that in 2018 alone, 1,450 people in Maine will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
One of the reasons that lung cancer is so deadly is that it is often diagnosed in later stages, after the disease has already spread and is much harder to treat. But if lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves significantly.
Low-dose CT is a special X-ray scan that can catch lung cancer at an early stage, when it is more treatable. Low-dose CT has been shown to reduce the risk of dying of lung cancer among individuals aged 55-80 with a heavy smoking history, who either currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Like all cancer screening tests, low-dose CT is not perfect, but it can save lives – and eligible people should have the opportunity to decide whether it makes sense for them. Currently most private insurers and Medicare cover low-dose CT screening, and hopefully MaineCare (Medicaid) will also provide funding for this test in the future.
This November, for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Maine Lung Cancer Coalition encourages former and current smokers to talk to their doctors about low-dose CT screening and other ways of reducing their risk of lung cancer. If you or a loved one is a current or former smoker, please visit the American Lung Association’s lung cancer screening eligibility quiz at SavedByTheScan.org. Through lung cancer screenings, we have a powerful opportunity to save lives and turn the tide against this disease.
Dr. Paul Han
director, Maine Lung Cancer Coalition