MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Mountains of Hope (MOH), the West Virginia Comprehensive Cancer Coalition, wants more West Virginians to use that time to take advantage of that time to get themselves screened.
As part of this effort, MOH is partnering with six screening facilities in November to help get West Virginians screened. Shelly Dusic, MOH chair, said right now, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the state and responsible for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. Only about 22% of those eligible for lung cancer screening in West Virginia are getting screened, mostly because they are unaware, she said.
Lung cancer screening is very new, so very few people know that it is even available. To be eligible for lung cancer screening, you need to either be a smoker or have been a smoker in the past 15 years, and we have high smoking rates in our state, so a lot of people do qualify. People are a little hesitant to approach their physician about lung cancer screening if they are a smoker because they are afraid that if they are not ready to quit smoking, they can’t be screened and that’s just not true. Even if you’re not ready to quit, you can still be screened for lung cancer. Of course, we do offer tobacco cessation as part of that screening if you’re ready to quit.Shelly Dusic – Chair, Mountains of Hope
As is the case with breast cancer screening, lung cancer screening is annual, and patients need to be referred by their primary care physician or family doctor, Dusic said. They are recommended annually because cancer can develop if not monitored, and that could be dangerous.
Although November is lung cancer awareness month, Dusic said West Virginias should be thinking about getting tested year-round because screenings are always available and can lead to early detection. She said early detection is key, and she knows from the experience of one of her coworkers.
“I have a coworker who was screened for lung cancer, they found her lung cancer, were able to go in and do her biopsy,” Dusic said. “During the biopsy, they identified it as cancer and were able to remove the tumor. When she woke up, she had been diagnosed with lung cancer and cured of it all at the same time before she came off the anesthesia. Now she has to do follow-ups, but she’s living a good life. As opposed to someone who might wait until they have symptoms, once symptoms appear with lung cancer, it’s usually late. And there are complications where the cancer may have spread from the lungs to other parts of the body like the lymph system and to the spine or to the bones.”
MOH and its partners, Dusic said, are “excited” to expand the screening process this year after running a pilot study about a year ago. She said during the pilot study they worked at two facilities and were able to increase lung cancer screening by 24% between the two locations.
“And now, we’re trying to do it at even a little bigger,” Dusic said. “We are looking forward to getting our results from this because this could be a key on how to move the needle forward even on a national level to increase lung cancer screening.”