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How dangerous is lung cancer

How Dangerous is Lung Cancer?

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Smoking stains your teeth, turns your fingers yellow, harms your skin and weakens your immune system. And all of this usually occurs before the most dangerous side effect of smoking can develop: lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the third-most common cancer worldwide and remains a formidable disease. There are over 540,000 Americans living with lung cancer. People who smoke are between 15%-30% more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer according to the CDC. And between 80%-90% of all cases of lung cancer are smoking-related and the five-year overall survival rate is a dismal 15%.

According to a 2018 study published in Preventive Medicine Report, current male smokers have a 14.8% chance of developing lung cancer and current female smokers have an 11.2% chance. For former smokers, the likelihood of developing cancer is 7.2% for men and 5.8% for women. For people who have never smoked, the possibility is much less:1.8% for men and 1.3% for women.

All of this statistical information demonstrates that every time you smoke, you are making your body more vulnerable to the most dangerous and deadly form of cancer that exists. More people die of lung cancer than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer combined. Although statistics indicate that the smoking rate is decreasing, we still estimate that about 14 out of every 100 Americans over the age of 18 are current smokers.

Despite the grim statistics, there is budding hope in the management of lung cancer. Renewed efforts at lung cancer screenings and new smoking cessation techniques may make a positive impact on the adverse effects of lung cancer. Advances in the surgical and medical management of lung cancer are also proving effective.

In 2011, the NIH sponsored a lung cancer screening trial which showed that for select patients, low-dose chest CT screenings may result in a 20% reduction in lung cancer mortality. As a result of this randomized prospective study, many medical centers nationwide have adopted low dose CT screenings of patients with lung cancer.

Advances in the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer include minimally invasive techniques such as endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), navigational bronchoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound. Robotic bronchoscopy is emerging as an accurate means of diagnosing early-stage lung cancer. Minimally invasive surgical techniques such as photodynamic therapy (PDT), video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and robotic lung resections are also available.

Anatomic segmental resections and ablative techniques such as photodynamic therapy and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) also provide treatment options for patients deemed a prohibitive risk for standard surgical therapy. Chemotherapy that targets genetic mutations specific to the cancer cells offers the promise of improved response to therapy, even in patients with advanced disease.

Doctors are aiming to make a more tailored approach to the treatment of lung cancer. Early detection and a wide array of medical and minimally-invasive surgical treatment options will undoubtedly make a positive impact upon patient survival in the future.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015. 

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