The killer c-word no one is talking about

[anvplayer video=”4990444″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For months we’ve focused on a contagiously cruel c-word: COVID. But as we struggle to contain the virus, another c-word continues to kill: Cancer.

So we cannot forget crucial screenings that give us the best chance for that celebrated c-word: Cure. On this Cancer Screen Week, this edition of Deanna’s Discoveries takes a look at the number one cancer killer in Monroe County, lung cancer.

For that, I chatted with Dr. David Yankelevitz, a world-renowned lung cancer expert at Mount Sinai.

Dr. David Yankelevitz: "It’s highly curable when found early. We estimate early-stage lung cancer is highly curable 80% of the time, which a lot of people are not used to hearing but that’s really where we think it falls. And if it’s really early even higher than that, as high as 90%; whereas, if it’s found late is highly fatal."

Deanna Dewberry: "So let’s talk about the screening tool. It’s a relatively painless or rather a completely painless screening tool. Tell us about it.”

Dr. Yankelevitz: “CT scanning is the way in which we screen for lung cancer now. This is the accepted modality… so it’s literally a few seconds to scan through the whole chest. And what does that translate to? It translates to we’re able to see smaller and smaller abnormalities… Now we’re seeing things as small as a grain of rice, even smaller."

Dewberry: "So you find a cancer as small as a grain of rice. What would be the treatment for that patient?”

Dr. Yankelevitz: "Early-stage lung cancer is highly treatable with surgery, and the surgery has highly improved over the years."

The surgery now used is called VATS, Video-Assisted Thoracoscopy. It’s the same surgical procedure I had at URMC two years ago.

Doctors cut two small holes in your side and insert a cutting tool and a camera. The doctor watches the video monitor, using the camera to guide him inside your chest cavity.

Dr. Yankelevitz: "They don’t have to take the whole lobe of the lung, They take a small piece. People are out of the hospital in two days and the cure rates are incredibly high."

So the question is who should be screened? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for people who meet the following three criteria:

  • You’re between 55 and 80 years old.
  • You have a smoking history of 30 pack years. That means you smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years, etcetera. For example, one pack-year is one pack a day for a year. So your pack years should add up to 30.
  • You smoked 30 pack-years and quit within the last 15 years

Insurance will likely only pay for your screening if you meet these criteria. But it’s important to note, the USPSTF is expected to change those guidelines sometime next year. The new guidelines will lower the age to begin screening to 50, and the number of pack years will be decreased to 20.

If you’re a smoker or a former smoker, it is vitally important that you talk to your doctor about screening.