Roaring Fork Valley doctors, politicians talk screenings and laws as Lung Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close
As November’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, Roaring Fork Valley doctors continue to stress the importance of lung cancer screenings, as local politicians double down in their fight to curb tobacco use and vaping, particularly among younger generations.
According to a Valley View Hospital news release, the most up-to-date data available from the Colorado Health Institute illustrated that overall lung cancer rates in Eagle, Grand, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties declined by approximately 13.6 percent per 100,000 people between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 calendar years.
In addition, early lung cancer detection rates increased from 27.8 percent to 33 percent over the same course of time.
Radiation Oncologist David M. Marcus, MD, who works in Valley View Hospital’s Calaway Young Cancer Center, said he cannot stress enough the importance of lung cancer screenings.
“A non-contrast CAT scan, or CT scan, that takes 10 minutes … in patients that have a history of smoking or have some other risk factor that puts them at risk for lung cancer [annually] has been shown to reduce lung cancer death by 26 percent in men and up to 61 percent in women,” Marcus said in an interview.
Marcus described how the American Cancer Society predicts 160,000 lung cancer deaths will have occurred in the United States in 2018 alone. With that being said, Marcus described how, if widespread screening were implemented, it could potentially save 65,000 lives in the U.S. each year, just by screening for lung cancer in people with a high risk.
“Lung cancer is a disease that is very curable at early stages, but really is not curable at the later stages,” Marcus explained. “If you are able to catch lung cancer early, we really have an opportunity for intervention that is extremely meaningful.”
The three-pronged approach from the medical perspective when it comes to understanding lung cancer includes prevention, screening and treatment, Marcus explained.
From a political perspective, many area municipalities, including Carbondale, have honed in on keeping tobacco smoke and vaping products out of the lungs of anyone under the age of 21.
“What we are seeing, as the rest of the country is seeing, is a rapidly increasing epidemic in the use of vaping products, even as young as fifth grade I have heard in Carbondale. There have been fifth-graders caught with vaping paraphernalia,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said. “It would be one thing if the industry was totally transparent, but it is not.”
Earlier this year, Carbondale raised the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21.
“When the FDA is not regulating vaping products and when there is misrepresentation from the industry, for me personally … it is worth bringing stronger regulations in order to minimize addiction and dependency, which is spiraling out of control right now,” Richardson said.
Building upon that sentiment, Marcus emphasized the importance of not only screening but also prevention altogether.
“We may not know what carcinogens are being delivered to people’s lung tissue through vaping, and at the end of the day the healthiest thing is abstinence from any tobacco or inhaling any sort of smoke or chemicals into your lungs,” Marcus said.
“Smoking is by far the most important risk factor for developing lung cancer. … That really is kind of the most important thing that we can do for our community is trying to get smoking rates down.”