Lung Cancer Awareness Through a Pandemic

Oklahoma Proton Center Offering Free Lung Screening in November

Lung cancer is the 2nd most common cancer amongst men and women in the United States and is by far the leading cause of cancer-related death. “It’s a difficult disease, with potentially difficult outcomes,” says David Raubach, Chief Development Officer at Oklahoma Proton Center. “But, it can be treatable if caught early enough.”

November is lung cancer awareness month, and with that comes an emphasis on screening and early diagnosis. However, unlike the much more commonly discussed screening procedures such as mammograms for breast cancer awareness month in October, there is less awareness about the effectiveness of low-dose CT imaging for early lung cancer detection.

The large drop in cancer screenings during the Coronavirus Pandemic has only served to complicate the issue. As a result, Oklahoma Proton Center is speaking out, reminding the community of the importance of cancer screening, especially in high-risk populations.

“It’s no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact in many areas. Unfortunately, one area where we have seen disruption is in cancer screening,” says Raubach

Screenings Decrease Mortality

The cancer mortality rate decreased by 27% from 1991 to 2016. One major reason for this was advancements in screening capabilities and the adoption of consistent screening protocols. “When cancer is discovered early, we can often treat it more effectively,” Raubach adds.

This is especially true in the case of lung cancer, where early detection is vital. 5-year relative survival is substantially higher in early stages, with the survival rate dropping to a mere 4.5% in cases when the cancer has metastasized.

Dr. John Han-Chih Chang M.D - Oklahoma Proton Center
Dr. John Chang – Medical Director, Oklahoma Proton Center

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 228,820 new lung cancer cases and 135,720 lung cancer deaths in 2020.

“Often, there are no signs or symptoms with lung cancer in the early stages, which means annual screenings are imperative for high-risk patients,” says Dr. John Chang, Medical Director of Oklahoma Proton Center. “If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to make it a priority.”

Studies have shown low-dose CT screening can detect lung cancer at earlier stages when patients have more options for treatment. In the low-dose CT arm of the National Lung Screening Trial (“NLST”), 70% of patients found to have cancer were diagnosed in early stages.   

What does that mean for high-risk individuals? Reduction in mortality. In the NLST, the mortality rate for high-risk patients receiving low-dose CT screening for lung cancer was reduced by 20% vs. those receiving a standard chest x-ray. “Although mammograms and colonoscopies may be more well known, low-dose CT screenings have a well-defined patient population at high risk,” says Chang.

Are You At Risk?

If you’re unsure if you qualify as high risk for lung cancer, the criteria are pretty straight forward.

If you are 55 or older, smoking now or quit within the past 15 years, and have a smoking history of 20 pack-years (a pack-year is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for a year).

At least 8.6 million Americans qualify as high-risk but, according to the American Association for Cancer Research, only about one in eight people for whom low dose CT lung screening was recommended reported having been screened in the past year.

“We strongly encourage those at higher risk, either because of age, lifestyle, or genetics, to maintain their physician recommended screening schedule,” says Raubach. “We understand that this can be difficult right now, and those at higher risk of cancer can also be at higher risk of a more severe reaction to a COVID-19 diagnosis. At Oklahoma Proton Center, we are committed to providing exceptional cancer care, and that includes going above and beyond to create the safest possible environment for our patients.”

Oklahoma Proton Center offers some cancer screening services and is in the process of expanding its capabilities. Physician-recommended low-dose lung screening for patients at high risk of lung cancer is now available at OPC.

Free Screening Available

To encourage patients to schedule their lung screening, Oklahoma Proton Center is offering screenings to high-risk individuals at no cost for the month of November.

“We don’t want people to be diagnosed with cancers at later stages because they avoided regular health screenings due to the coronavirus. Preventive health screenings save lives. We see it every day,” says Brittney Prince, Director of Marketing at Oklahoma Proton Center. “We have spent countless hours working on ways to engage with the community during this challenging time safely. As screening numbers continue to drop, higher mortality rates will become inevitable.”

While most insurance providers cover the cost of annual low-dose lung screenings, Oklahoma Proton Center was determined to remove as many obstacles as possible for patients to be screened.

“Life has been full of uncertainty this year. Our team decided if there were a way to eliminate any part of that uncertainty for patients needing to be screened, we would do it,” said Raubach. “Our hope is that our stringent COVID-19 precautions at the Center, along with removing any potential financial responsibility for the patient, will make the decision to come in for a screening a bit easier.”

If you have questions about where, when, or how to schedule screening appointments, please reach out to the Oklahoma Proton Center at 405.773.6700 or visit www.okcproton.com/lung-screening/