Lung cancer is a complicated disease affecting over 370,000 Americans each year.
Here in Northwest Indiana, the incidence of local lung cancer deaths is greater than the national rate, with experts attributing smoking and other environmental factors as the biggest contributors.
“Lake County has the highest number of smokers in the state of Indiana,” Franciscan Medical Specialists’ nurse practitioner and Lung Cancer Screening Coordinator Linda Gatto, RN, FNP-C said. “We recommend screenings for anyone living in this area who is over 50 and has been a pack-a-day smoker for 30 years. We also consider occupational exposure for steel workers and factory workers. We definitely see a higher rate of asthma and allergies due to industrial exposure throughout Northwest Indiana.”
With cancer the No. 2 killer in our region claiming 20,120 lives between 1999 in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, according to a Times computer-assisted analysis of federal mortality data, lung cancer is the biggest single killer within the category, accounting for 28 percent of all cancer deaths.
Lung cancer claimed 5,689 lives followed by colon cancer as the cause of death in 1,733 people and breast cancer in 1,551.
In nearly all cancer cases, the earlier it can be detected the better chance of survival.
“With lung cancer, if you’re not screened, chances are you are not going to find it until you have symptoms – which usually occur at stage 3 or stage 4,” said Gatto, who has been working in the Medical Specialist Pulmonary Medicine Department for six years. “We have been providing our smoking cessation program for four years now. If you smoke, you should quit. We know quitting can be hard. Most people who have quit smoking tried at least once, without success in the past. We provide that added support. We have found that those who keep coming back and are committed to the program increase their chances for staying quit. Smoking can be a lifelong issue—it’s an addiction.”
Today, Gatto works with a number of new smoking cessation program members after they have had a lung cancer screening.
“Our screening program was started in May of 2012 and Franciscan Alliance has been doing them on three separate campuses since last August,” she explained. “All together, nearly 500 patients have been screened in Northwest Indiana. We have seen firsthand how early detection of lung cancer – with the right type of equipment - is key to fighting this deadly disease.”
According to Gatto, CAT scan three-dimensional imaging can pick up growths when they are small, increasing the chance of successful treatment. However, by the time a cancer tumor is large enough to be detected on a chest X-ray, it is more likely to be fatal.
In fact, the Amerian Lung Assosciation reports that without early detection screening, more than 95 percent of lung cancer patients eventually die from their lung cancer, usually within a few years of when they are diagnosed. Annual screening with lung CT scans can find lung cancers in their earliest stage, when up to 90 percent can be cured.
For those interested in learning more about smoking cessation, Gato conducts a series of group classes at Medical Specialist locations in Dyer, Hammond and Munster. There will also be a group class starting Thursday evening May 15th at Franciscan St. Margaret Dyer from 6 - 8 p.m. and running through June 19. The cost is $60, which includes the Freedom From Smoking Book. Register by calling 1 (800) 931-3322. In addition, Medical Specialists has a nurse practitioner that does some individual smoking cessation work and can prescribe nicotine replacement therapy.