COMMENTARY: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to learn more

BY LORENA SAENZ GONZALEZ

Lung cancer is a brutal disease, and we can do far better in preventing it and detecting it early. Screening rates for lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. — are much lower than screening rates for other cancers. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to learn more about the disease and advances in early detection.

An estimated 234,030 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, and about 154,050 will die of the disease. In Texas alone, 15,460 will be diagnosed and 9,310 will die of the disease this year.

Eighty to 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking. But that means up to 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. every year have never smoked or used another form of tobacco (such as pipe or cigar). Other risk factors we should be aware of include exposure to radon gas found in soil and asbestos in building materials, secondhand smoke, workplace exposure to certain toxic substances, and family history of the disease.

Symptoms often don’t appear until lung cancer has advanced, so screening is important for those at high risk. A recent study presented at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, or IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer showed annual low-dose CT screening in high-risk patients reduced lung cancer deaths by 26 percent in men and up to 61 percent in women. Risks include false positives (a result that suggests cancer is present when it really is not) or finding cancer that may never have been a problem. Adults ages 55 to 80 with a history of heavy smoking who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years should talk to a health care professional to decide if screening is right for you.

Quitting smoking (or never starting) is the best way to reduce your risk for lung cancer. You can also lower your risk by avoiding secondhand smoke, testing your home for radon, and following occupational health and safety guidelines. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/lungcancer .

Lorena Saenz Gonzalez is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen. She is a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.