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Providers Weigh In: Early Lung Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lung cancer is the single-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing more than 150,000 people each year. Eighty-five percent of lung cancer cases result from smoking cigarettes.

Mary P.

Mary Pasquinelli, APN
Lung Cancer Screening Program

Lung cancers are believed to develop over a period of many years. Nearly all lung cancers are carcinomas — a cancer that begins in the lining or covering tissues of an organ — but tumor cells of each type of lung cancer grow and spread differently, and each type requires different treatment.

Lung cancer symptoms do not often appear until they have spread; however, there are some early symptoms you can be aware of:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Stubborn cough and infections that recur
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recurring bronchitis and pneumonia

"Lung cancer remains a challenge in both men and women — it kills more women than breast cancer — and recently there have been considerable advances in screening and treatment, with more progress happening all the time," says Mary Pasquinelli, an advanced nurse practitioner and director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at UI Health.

UI Health provides lung cancer screenings for individuals who fit the following criteria:

  • You are 55–80 years old or 55–77 years old and on Medicare
  • You are a current smoker or quit smoking less than 15 years ago
  • Individuals also must have at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking (one pack-year is equal to smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years)

A large randomized study done by the National Screening Trial Research Team and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 showed that people who get screened with low-dose CT scanning are 20% less likely to die from lung cancer than those who didn't get screened. Lung cancer screening is done by a low-dose computer tomography (CT) scan, which is painless and takes just a few minutes; the cost of the screening is covered by medical insurance. If you meet the above criteria, we will work with you on insurance precertification. As with all efforts directed at decreasing rates of lung cancer, the Lung Cancer team strongly encourages patients to quit smoking.

"Our Lung Cancer Screening Program at UI Health can save lives by detecting lung cancer early — before symptoms develop and before that cancer has spread," Pasquinelli says. "If you are over the age of 55 and have a heavy smoking history, please ask your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer."

Though a majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking, there are other risk factors to which  non-smokers may be susceptible. These include:

  • A history of heavy smoking - even if you quit decades ago
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke or air pollution
  • Exposure to toxic substances, such as arsenic, radon, or asbestos
  • Family history of lung cancer

Different types of carcinomas, involving different regions of the lung, may cause different symptoms and are treated differently. The Lung Cancer Team at UI Health specializes in diagnosing and treating all types of lung cancer and is committed to finding the best treatment plan for you. Such treatments may or may not include interventional pulmonology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.

To make an appointment with one of our lung cancer doctors, please fill out the online form or call 312.413.4900.