Reminder: Anyone With Lungs Can Get Lung Cancer

Photo by Lorraine Santana

Last week, I got a message out of the blue from an acquaintance:

“Lisa – I just wanted to send you a note of thanks for sharing your experience and being so open. I went to get a chest X-ray this week because I’ve had a persistent cough for a couple of months, and I was tired of the doctors blowing it off. Remembering your story, I insisted that they do the X-ray. It turns out they found some abnormalities and have done a number of follow up tests. Nothing definitive yet, but there appear to be some issues that I’m going to need to take care of. The good news is that it seems very early, so it seems likely it’s something that can be dealt with effectively. I wouldn’t have been so insistent if you had not shared your story, and this might have turned out differently. So, thank you for all that you’ve shared. I won’t ever be able to repay that. But know that I will forever remember it.”  

Whoa. I read the message aloud to Eric and we both got a little misty eyed. If you’re lucky, every once in awhile you get a sign that you’re accomplishing something you set out to do. In my “line of work,” that often means a bad news/good news situation. Unfortunately, I now have yet another friend dealing with illness. But, it is gratifying to know that all my prattling on here isn’t (just) self-indulgent navel gazing. Sharing our stories matters.

I do want to take a moment to clarify one thing. If you have a cough that persists for more than a few weeks (that the doctors can’t explain and hasn’t responded to typical treatments), ask your doctor for a low-dose CT scan, rather than an X-ray. My friend above got very lucky that their abnormalities showed up on an X-ray, but X-rays can commonly miss lung cancer. Recall that I had a lung X-ray that looked clear when I was already symptomatic–only 10 weeks before receiving the Stage IV diagnosis. The CT scan I received at the time of diagnosis revealed widespread cancer in both of my lungs, cancer that had been present but invisible on the earlier X-ray. CT scans allow doctors to see all the way through the lungs, rather than just the surface. If your doctor insists that you do an X-ray first, fine. But, if that X-ray looks clear and you still have unexplained symptoms, push hard to get a CT (a low-dose CT is fine). Do not accept anything less.

Thank you to my friend for sharing this story with me and further allowing me to share it here. I am so glad that you appear to have caught something early, and that I may have played a small part of helping you to do that. Now, together we can help many others realize that none of us is safe. Lung cancer is a risk for anyone with lungs. Everyone needs to hear the message: If you have risk factors or possible symptoms of lung cancer, get a low-dose CT scan.