Experts, advocates promote early screenings for Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Published: Nov. 10, 2023 at 4:06 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, with Saturday marking National Lung Cancer Screening Day.

“Over 220-thousand people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the United States. Of those diagnosed, 150-thousand people will die because of lung cancer. Here in Maine, our stats get a little scarier in that our lung cancer rate is 30% higher than the national average,” explains Amy McClary, RN, BSN, of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMCC).”It’s not fully understood why it’s that much higher in Maine, but what we do know is that we have some high smoking rates, and we also have an older population. So, those two together contribute to why we see so much more lung cancer in Maine.”

Debra Violette is a lung cancer advocate and survivor, who founded Free ME from Lung Cancer in 2012.

“I was diagnosed at 44 years old. I was in perfect health, I exercised, I ate right. I did all the right things, and I started getting reoccurring lung infections probably about six months before I was diagnosed. Finally, in April of 1998, I presented to the doctors with yet another infection, and I was coughing up blood,” describes Violette of her diagnosis.

Her story aligns with many others across the nation, as early-stage lung cancers do not usually show symptoms right away.

“Those early-stage lung cancers typically don’t have any signs and symptoms, so folks don’t have a cough, they’re not coughing up blood, they’re not losing weight. Those signs and symptoms typically don’t appear until later stage diseases where there are fewer treatment options available,” says McClary.

To help combat this, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center began their Lung Cancer Screening program almost a decade ago.McClary describes the difference the expanded program has made as, “Year after year, we see 30% growth in our lung cancer screening rate since our program started here in 2014. 70% of the cancers detected through the program have been early-stage lung cancers.”

McClary specifies the current eligibility for lung cancer screenings are those between 50 and 80 and anyone who is smoking or has smoked with a “pack history” of 20 - for example, if they smoked a pack a day for 20 years.

Violette’s organization, Free Me from Lung Cancer, makes screenings even more accessible by providing grants to hospitals to ensure those eligible get the care they need.

This Lung Cancer Awareness Month, they both just have one piece of advice: If eligible, get screened.

“I just encourage everyone that is in high risk for lung cancer to get screened. It’s easy. It’s not very invasive, and it only takes 10 minutes,” says Violette.

McClary says, “We want to be able to diagnose it and detect it early to give everyone the most treatment options. Screenings save lives. We know that, and it’s the best way we can change our statistics here in Maine.”