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Screening, Treating, & Surviving Lung Cancer

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

Do Any Treatments Work? continued...

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.

Q. What success stories come to your mind from patients you've treated?

A. I have a patient today who's 60 years old. I treated her 14 years ago. She presented with a lung cancer that had spread to her brain. She was operated on, had brain surgery, had the lung cancer removed, was then treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Five years ago, I think, [she] developed a second lung cancer which was successfully operated upon, and [she] is doing well today. That's a very unusual situation, but it's a real situation.

The statistics are, unfortunately, that 90% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer will die of lung cancer. But there's a 10% group of people who don't.

Q. Once someone has been diagnosed, besides quitting smoking, are there other things that can be done?

A. I think if they were diagnosed with a lung cancer, I think they should be seen by an oncologist, because I think that individual will have the expertise to give them the very best in terms of all the latest treatment options that are available. I truly encourage patients to participate in research trials, which allows patients to be exposed to the latest therapeutic advances.

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