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Lung Cancer Health Center

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Screening, Treating, & Surviving Lung Cancer

Who Gets Lung Cancer, and How to Handle It: Q&A

Do Any Treatments Work?

Q. Some people say they've heard that even if lung cancer is flagged early, there are no good treatments.

A. I'm not going to say that. I think that's a very fatalistic approach. We desperately need ways of detecting early lung cancers. But I think there is a group of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer in whom surgery can effectively cure them of their lung cancer. The use now of chemotherapy after lung cancer has been operated on definitely can improve the chances of being alive. The use of combinations of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also improve the chances of patients who have more advanced stages of lung cancer.

Q. If there are benefits to early detection, why isn't everybody getting an annual lung X-ray?

A. For someone like myself -- I'm 51 years old, I've never smoked a day in my life, my father smoked when I was a child -- I don't consider lung cancer a very high priority in my health screening. I take care of some physicians in our organization. Some of them have had a smoking history in the past and they've asked about doing CT [scans] of the chest. Some of them have had CAT scans done, and what I've told them is, "Understand that if we do this test, we may be detecting something that we don't know quite what to do with yet." I've explained that the information is still out on that.

(Previously, Brooks told WebMD that a large study has just been done on using CAT scans to screen people at high risk of lung cancer. The results of that study aren't in yet. Chest X-rays "have not really been shown to be completely beneficial" for lung cancer screening, Brooks told WebMD recently.)

The Success Stories

Q. Some people have commented that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings had stopped smoking for 20 years and still got cancer. The question they ask is, why should they quit?

A. The same argument you can make [is], "I drive in my car for 20 years, I never wear a seatbelt, and I go 20 miles over the speed limit. I've never had a problem." That's a true statement. But if you do that long enough, statistically, something bad is going to happen. It's never too late to stop smoking, but you have to understand that the effects in terms of lung cancer linger much longer than that of [heart] disease.

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