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Health Today: Denial is deadly

by Goetz Kloecker MD, director of thoracic oncology, James Graham Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville last modified Nov 11, 2011 11:57 AM

Which cancer kills more Kentuckians than the next eight most common cancers combined?

Which cancer kills twice as many Kentucky women than breast cancer?

Which cancer kills four times as many Kentucky men than prostate cancer?

Which cancer death rate in Kentucky is the highest in the United States: 50 percent higher than the national average?

Do you know? Have you guessed?

November is the month dedicated to raise awareness for this deadly disease. It is a time to shine a light on a disease which takes a life in the United States every four minutes.

Not many survive this cancer.

Last year, there were only a thousand survivors of this cancer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Some of them are embarrassed to talk about the diagnosis. Some feel guilty, thinking they brought this upon themselves. Some don’t know where to find support or how to cope with the worry that it may come back or spread. For each survivor of this disease, five times as many succumb to it. It is the cancer that kills the most people – not only in Kentucky, but also in the country and in the world.

Now do you know which cancer it is?

It is lung cancer.

There are no walks, no colorful ribbons, no donations at the grocery checkout line, no license plates pleading to support the victims of lung cancer.

There is a ribbon for it (not many know it), a ribbon with no color. The ribbon is clear and transparent. It stands for the “invisible disease” – invisible, but all around us.

Although lung cancer is not much talked about, there is hardly anyone from Kentucky who has not been touched by it, through the death of a family member or the death of a friend.

For the past 60 years, lung cancer has been associated with smoking, which is scientifically proven and without doubt the cause in 85 percent of cases. What many are not aware of, however, is that it also affects 20,000 people each year in the United States without obvious cause. Lung cancer strikes never-smokers and former smokers as well.

New research and new guidelines have come out during the past year to decrease the mortality of lung cancer. In October, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network advised that low-dose CT scanning to screen for this cancer is a valid test in people who have smoked for many years. Thus there are new ways to find this cancer early enough to be cured in time. There are also new, targeted treatments to induce remissions to a degree we have not seen before in this disease.

Not to talk about it can be deadly. November is Lung Cancer Awareness month, which helps us all mount the best defense against this disease – awareness. Visit your primary care physician regularly to be checked and don’t be silent about any symptoms you may experience, such as a persistent cough or shortness of breath. It may be the most important thing you ever do.

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