SAN ANTONIO – One in 16 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime. It is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common cancer in the U.S.
Dr. Josephine Taverna, a lung oncologist with UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, joined leading SA to discuss the issue in our community and diagnosis.
“Now, because of the COVID pandemic, we’re picking up more and more lung cancer because of a lot of the CT scans that we’re doing in the hospital or in the outpatient clinic. They usually present as nodules, and sometimes they are advanced. They go to the lymph nodes. The majority of my patients are smokers. They smoke a pack a day for 30 years or more. Those patients are most at risk. But moderate smokers, as well as light smokers, should still discuss CT scans with their primary care doctor. Doing a CT scan once a year will allow us to detect a nodule, a spot in the lung that’s abnormal. And you can biopsy that. A surgeon can actually take that nodule out and make it a patient potentially curable. So early detection is important,” Dr. Taverna said.
It’s not just smoking cigarettes that can cause lung cancer.
“Anytime you inhale something that can be potentially that is a carcinogen, it can actually cause some damage in the lung, in that lung cell, and mutations arise that bring forth that cancer. And then, once the cancer cell occurs, it actually spreads and grows rapidly. So, yes, vaping or any smoking, any inhalation of these chemicals can cause lung injury,” Dr. Taverna said.
It is important to get screened.
“The majority of smokers are in their can be in their forties, fifties, or sixties. One one of the things that that we encourage is just that patients try to quit smoking because it’s the years of chronic smoking that occurs,” Dr. Taverna said.
Even if you get screened, and it shows advanced stages of the disease, there are still treatments available.
“We now know that the immune system is a huge component and what helps us fight cancer every day in normal and in patients without cancer. So with the advent of immunotherapy, we’re actually seeing the survival of lung cancer patients with stage four disease patients who’ve had their lung cancer spread beyond the lung to other parts through the bloodstream. We’ve actually improved survival from 5% survival at five years to 25% survival within five years. And now, with clinical trials, these novel drugs that are making its way into the clinic, we have even more hope. And patients are living well beyond five years because of these hopeful therapies that are coming down the pipeline,” Dr. Taverna said.