CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez has more on what is making the difference.
Jill Fine came home from a trip in 2018 with wheezing and shoulder pain. Tests revealed that the 49-year-old had Stage 3 lung cancer.
“I did smoke, I admit that. Thank God I don’t anymore, but I was seriously, at my age, shocked to hear the word ‘cancer.’ You just never think it’s going to happen to you,” Fine said.
Treatment included surgery to remove two-thirds of her lung and surgery on her airway.
“Four rounds of chemo after that and then a year of immunotherapy. It was quite a journey, I have to say, but I am so grateful and so lucky,” Fine said.
Now, a new American Cancer Society report finds that, like Fine, lung cancers are being diagnosed earlier and patients are living longer.
An important reason for that good news is low-dose CT screening of people at high risk for developing lung cancer, those over age 50 with a significant smoking history, to detect early, treatable cancers.
There’s also increased access to care and better treatments.
“While we know that not all lung cancers are associated with smoking, a significant fraction are. We are starting to see some progress, however, based on tobacco cessation. For the heavy smoking population, it is possible to get into a screening program to detect lung cancer at an earlier stage,” said ACS CEO Dr. Karen Knudsen.
Beyond lung cancer, the U.S. continues to see a significant reduction in cancer deaths overall. This year, it’s estimated there will be 1.9 million new cancer diagnoses and more than 609,000 cancer deaths. However, the report also flags some concerning trends, including increased incidence of breast cancer in women and more men being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.
“Cancer that has become widespread or metastatic, we still have no durable cure for that stage of disease. So for prostate cancer, it is incredibly important for us to detect early and intervene early,” Knudsen said.
The reasons behind those increases are not yet clear, although it’s known that millions have delayed essential, routine cancer screenings during the pandemic. Experts say that alone could lead to diagnosing some cancers at later stages.