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1 in 5 people who need lung cancer screenings aren't getting them

One in five people who need lung cancer screenings don't get them
One in five people who need lung cancer screenings don't get them 02:14

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, and now new studies are showing how important screenings are to catching lung cancer early.

Only 18 percent of people who are eligible and need lung cancer screenings are getting them. That's according to a new study led by American Cancer Society researchers. 

"This study really shows that if only one in five patients are getting screened, then we have work to do," said Dr. Hiran Fernando, director of thoracic surgery at Allegheny Health Network's Forbes Hospital and professor of surgery at Drexel University.

Dr. Fernando said a few factors could be driving these low screening numbers, including availability or people not wanting to know the results.

"Unfortunately, so many people are diagnosed late in their disease because most of the time you're not symptomatic when you first have lung cancer. And by the time you get symptoms, the cancer is too advanced and we want to get it before you get to that point," he said. 

Another study released this week looked at lung cancer patients in the VA health care system. That new research found people who were screened were more likely to be diagnosed earlier and more likely to survive. 

Current recommendations push a yearly low-dose CT scan for people 50 to 80 years old who are current and former smokers who smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.

What about other risk factors that could affect even non-smokers?

"There may be some genetic components, family history is one of the things. And then in the Pittsburgh area or Pennsylvania, radon exposure is also significant as well, and now most homes are tested for radon. But if you've had significant radon exposure, that would be another risk factor," Dr. Fernando said.

Smoking e-cigarettes or vaping are not screening qualifications, as the health dangers and risk for lung cancer are still unknown, including for teenagers.

"I think it's too early to say that we are going to see problems. We need to educate the kids that vaping, especially if there's nicotine in there, it's putting them at risk," he said.

While you might not be eligible for a lung cancer scan, talk to your doctor if you have concerns about risk factors or symptoms.

Dr. Fernando stressed why it's important to protect your lungs.

"The first thing is don't smoke, don't smoke. That's what's going to lead to these cancers," he said.

AHN has week-day and monthly cancer screening events for lung cancer and several other types of cancer:

  • Weekly screening events are on Tuesdays at AHN Jefferson Hospital and Wednesdays at AHN Forbes Hospital.
  • Once a month no-cost Saturday cancer screening clinics are held around Western Pennsylvania.

You can sign up online

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