Lung cancer is a treatable, curable disease if it is diagnosed early. November is lung cancer awareness month — a good time to think about your risk.
Each year, about 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the US. In Arizona, there will be about 4,000 lung cancer diagnoses this year, with nearly that many Arizonans dying from the disease.
Faculty at the University of Arizona Cancer Center say that mortality figure in Arizona and across the Southwestern United States can be significantly reduced.
Farid Gharagozloo, MD, FACS, chief of the new Southwest Regional Thoracic Oncology Program at the University of Arizona and a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Arizona Medical Center, says many people who have a nodule on their lung may be misdiagnosed as having valley fever (coccidiodomycosis), because that disease is prevalent in the desert environment.
But the population at greatest risk of developing lung cancer – people over the age of 55 who have a history of smoking for at least 10 years – may have lived elsewhere in their youth and were not exposed to valley fever spores, Dr. Gharagozloo said. So any nodule discovered on their lung should be treated as if it is cancer until determined otherwise, rather than taking a watchful approach.
“There are more problems with lung cancer in the Southwest than in any other region in the nation,” Dr. Gharagozloo said. “Lung cancer is as common here as it is anywhere else in America, but more people who live in the Southwest end up dying from it. We’re going to change that.”
Dr. Gharagozloo said just as breast cancer has gone from a potential fatal disease to one that can be managed and lived with if diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, lung cancer can also be managed in the same way.
“If you pick it up early and treat it minimally invasively, we can have a winning story,” he said.
Dr. Gharagozloo performs robotic surgery on lung cancer patients and can diagnose and treat the disease with “three little holes” in a patient’s chest at less risk than opening up a patient’s chest with a large incision.
Dr. Gharagozloo said people at risk of lung cancer should seek a CT scan and if a lesion is present, see a thoracic surgeon, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy if necessary.
“We are changing lung cancer care in the Southwest,” Dr. Gharagozloo said.
If you are concerned about your risk for lung cancer, ask your physician to schedule a CT scan. For more information about lung cancer, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's feature story on lung cancer awareness.
Criteria for possible lung cancer screening
• Age: 55-74, with no signs of symptoms of lung cancer
• Smoking history: Active or former smoker with a 30 pack year history. (A pack year is the equivalent of 1 pack of cigarettes per day per year. 1 pack per day for 30 years or 2 packs per day for 15years would both be 30 pack-years).
• Active smoker: If active smoker, should also be vigorously urged to enter a smoking cessation program
• Former smoker: If former smoker, must have quit within 15 years
• General health exclusions: Metallic implants or devices in the chest or back. Requirement for home oxygen supplementation. Prior history of lung cancer or other lung cancer symptoms.
To learn more about lung cancer screenings and to find out if you are eligible, call the UACC's Lung Specialist Clinic at (520) 694-CURE (2873).