Current and former smokers can get free virtual lung cancer screenings this month (November) as the West Virginia University Cancer Institute Lung Cancer and Screening Program continues to improve lung cancer screening access and eligibility for West Virginians. November is National Lung Cancer Awareness month.
Dr. Kyle Chapman, lead pulmonologist for the lung cancer screening program, is one of the providers working to improve screening access and eligibility for West Virginia residents.
Smoking in West Virginia
“Unfortunately, West Virginia leads the nation in smoking rates at 26% compared to the national average of 17.1%, and tobacco smoke has long been recognized as the #1 risk factor for developing lung cancer. Occupational exposures to asbestos or silica dust also increase the risk of developing lung cancer, which are present in many work environments in West Virginia.”
Less than 4% of West Virginians are screened for lung cancer, why is this?
“The option to screen for lung cancer with a low dose cancer test is a relatively new option for primary care providers. While West Virginia’s numbers are lower, the national average is still only less than 10%. Studies have suggested that this low percentage is due to a lack of provider familiarity, a stigma that smoking is a self-inflicted health problem, complicated eligibility criteria, and lack of public awareness.”
Is there a reason why West Virginia’s smoking rate is higher?
“Research has suggested that smoking rates are higher in rural environments where there is a lower socioeconomic status, but even compared to other rural environments, Appalachia’s rates are higher. Exposure to smoking at a young age is a huge factor in creating an addictive habit. Many of my patients say they started smoking regularly at the age of 12 or 13, before they could legally buy tobacco products on their own. A family history of smoking and access to these products creates habits that last an entire lifetime.”
Lung Cancer Education and Screening
Why is it important for patients to get screened for lung cancer early?
“The benefit of screening is to find cancer in an early stage when treatment is potentially curative. If you wait for symptoms to emerge before seeking treatment, that patient will have a higher stage of cancer. If the cancer has spread beyond the chest, treatment goals focus more on managing symptoms rather than curing disease. Catching an early stage of cancer improved mortality by 20%. So, the ideal person for screening should have no symptoms, just increased risk based on the eligibility criteria.”
What is the eligibility criteria for lung cancer screening?
“Current or former smokers that quit within the last 15 years, ages 55 - 80. If you aren't sure if you qualify, ask your doctor. If the provider isn't sure, they can refer to the screening program and we can do the rest. To really improve the survival rate for West Virginians with lung cancer, we need to screen.”
-Dr. Kyle Chapman, lead pulmonologist for the West Virginia University Cancer Institute Lung Cancer and Screening Program
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