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Lung cancer continues to be leading cause of cancer deaths in Nevada

10 October, 2022

Despite years of progress in screening and medical advances, lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer death among Nevadans – and across the U.S. This year it’s estimated that 2,030 Nevadans will have been diagnosed with lung cancer and close to 1,170 people will die of the disease.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and an opportunity to educate the community about screening for lung cancer and how to reduce the risk for getting the disease.

“Lung cancer is much more common than many people realize, but there has been a stigma associated with the disease that has led many to avoid discussing it,” Cari Herington, executive director of Nevada Cancer Coalition, said. “Yet as with all cancers, the more you know, the better. Advances in screening for lung cancer – with low-dose computed tomography or LDCT – can help people find lung cancers earlier when they’re easier to treat and much more survivable. We want Nevadans to know that talking about lung cancer and lung cancer screening is vital to saving lives and helping to reduce the stigma related to the disease.”

In Nevada, only about 1% of those who are at high risk for lung cancer have been screened for the disease. Health care providers say getting more people screened will help to save lives by finding cancers earlier when they’re easier to treat.

The guidelines for lung cancer screening were expanded in 2021 to include millions more people at risk. The recommendation is for adults ages 50-80 who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years to be screened annually. (Twenty pack years would equal one pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years.)

Herington says that in Nevada, there are some unique challenges to reducing lung cancer deaths.

“People living in our rural communities have higher rates of tobacco use and lower rates of LDCT screening,” she said. “Fortunately, many health care partners in the state are working to change that. We’re getting more people to quit smoking with help from the Nevada Tobacco Quitline, and places like Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko have started lung cancer screening programs to expand access to screening. We’re making progress, and now we need to continue spreading the word.”

Most major hospitals across Nevada have LDCT screening available, and any primary health care provider can counsel their patients on whether lung cancer screening is right for them. The screening exam is covered by Medicare and Medicaid and most insurance providers for those who meet screening eligibility guidelines.

Lung cancer is caused by more than just tobacco use. People exposed to secondhand smoke, elevated levels of radon in their homes or workplaces, air pollution high in particulate matter, and other carcinogens, are also at increased risk for lung cancer.

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