Maybe the cause needs a catchy slogan, like “Think Pink.”
At least one of the promotional advertisements being run by the Southern Ohio Medical Center even plays off the fact breast cancer awareness, obviously especially among women, is very high. Everyone has seen those pink ribbons on T-shirts, cars, etc.
While no one would argue against breast cancer awareness, the bottom line, said SOMC thoracic and cardiac surgeon Jeremiah Martin, is the number one cancer killer nationwide and locally is by far lung cancer.
At least since earlier this year, Martin and SOMC have been on a bit of a mission to promote early lung cancer screening. Finding lung cancer in its earliest stages can have a dramatic effect on the lifespan of the patient. Martin made his latest pitch during what’s known as Grand Rounds, a monthly program primarily for medical professionals put on by the Scioto County Medical Society.
According to information presented by Martin, among males, it is estimated lung cancer will be the culprit behind 26 percent of the estimated cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2018. Among females, the number is nearly as high, sitting at 25 percent. It is probably worth noting while the disease receives lots of publicity as already noted, breast cancer is estimated to be responsible for only 14 percent of female cancer deaths. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women.
For men, coming in second is prostate cancer, but as it accounts for only 9 percent of all cancer deaths, lung cancer can be said to be far deadlier.
Not completely incidentally, the cancer deaths in the U.S. this year for males could reach 323,630. For females the number is 286,010.
Lung cancer is definitely a huge problem in Scioto County, accounting for just over 35 percent of the cancer mortalities locally. That is clearly well above the national average. Further, lung cancer accounts for 18.6 percent of all new cancer cases, a figure again well above average.
Why is lung cancer such a problem locally? Martin said the answer can be summed up in one word: smoking. According to Martin, smoking is far and away the biggest contributing factor to lung cancer and smoking rates in Scioto County are, for whatever reason, well above average. He did note the Appalachian Regional Commission classifies Scioto County as economically distressed. Historically, economically challenged areas consistently show higher rates of smoking.
There is a very important reason Martin and others emphasize early detection of lung cancer. The disease is a very aggressive and lethal form of cancer. Why? Martin said there are several factors including the fact early stage lung cancer often arrives with no symptoms. He further talked about a certain stigma attached to contracting lung cancer, namely that it is self-inflicted by the patient’s choice to smoke. Finally, and one assumes this might especially be the case in rural Appalachia, there may be little or no access to advanced medical treatment. Of course, Martin almost certainly would argue that is not the case in Portsmouth or Scioto County.
Again, Martin emphasizes the importance of early detection of lung cancer. In promoting lung screening earlier this year, Martin said if the cancer is caught early enough, five years later 90 percent of patients are still alive and kicking. If the cancer is caught in later stages, only 15 percent of patients will have survived those same five years. Many persons, Martin continued, can have early-stage lung cancer and not realize it.
“It’s a very aggressive disease,” he said. “Often by the time you realize you have a problem, it’s a big problem.”
The big development in lung cancer screening is low dose computed tomography, in other words a low dose CT scan, meaning patients are exposed to 75 percent less radiation than during a normal CT scan.
According to the SOMC website, persons who should be checked for lung cancer are anyone, male or female, 55 years of age or older, who is a current smoker or who quit in the past 15 years. Persons who smoked a pack a day or more for 30 years or more are especially encouraged to be tested. And although testing is urged – stating they hope to relieve anxiety- the site’s authors note about 76 percent of those tested will have negative results.
For that 24 percent who aren’t so lucky, in addition to promoting early testing, Martin has in the past talked about how much improvement there has been in the surgery that may or may not be the best course of treatment for lung cancer.
Not all that long ago, to remove tumors, surgeons were forced to cut patients open from “stem to stern,” Martin said. With a still new technique dubbed video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS,) incisions have become far, far smaller. Traditional surgery can keep patients in the hospital for a week or more and require three to four months recovery time. Using VATS techniques, patients can leave the hospital in a few days and return to full, normal activity in a matter of weeks.
In terms of nonsurgical treatments, Martin has talked about what he called stereo tactic radiation treatment. Such treatments direct multiple beams of radiation from multiple directions tightly focused onto the offending tumor. Traditional radiation treatments might be stretched out over a month or more. Newer treatments require only five or six visits to the doctor.
During the Grand Rounds presentation, Martin emphasized SOMC takes a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with lung cancer. “It takes an army,” he said. But he also indicated SOMC has that army at the ready. SOMC is one of seven national test sites for what has been dubbed the optimal care coordination model. In other words, finding the quickest and best ways to treat instances of lung cancer. Martin said SOMC has put an emphasis on moving patients from detection to treatment as quickly as possible simply because early treatment is so important in terms of survival rates.
For persons interested in getting tested for early-stage lung cancer SOMC has set up a special call line at (740) 356-LUNG. Martin said SOMC will, among other things, guide patients through insurance questions and the process leading up to testing.