November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month so we wanted to take the pulse of the physician community on the prevention and treatment of lung cancer, the top cancer killer. Some of the results we found support calls for new guidelines and policies and others we found just plain shocking.
Let’s start with those that could lead to changes in policies.
43% of 2,490 doctors surveyed thought that low dose CT scanning for lung cancer should be extended to all patients at a certain age, similar to how we do mammograms for women above 45 and colonoscopies for men and women above age 50. That’s almost 50 percent wanting to go one step further than the current recommendation – to just test smokers ages 55-80 who have a 30 pack per year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Out of nearly 475 of those who wanted to make lung cancer screening universal, 42 percent said that the testing should begin at age 50. Additionally, 49 percent of doctors polled said they are seeing an increase in the number of lung cancer cases among nonsmokers (poll of 1,080 doctors).
“It remains unanswered whether screening tests for lung cancer in nonsmokers would be effective,” said Dr. Dennis Morgan, SERMO member and oncologist. “However the SERMO poll result does support the need for further study of this previously under-appreciated cancer risk.”
Another result we found interesting had to do with the second leading cause of lung cancer aside from smoking: radon. Radon is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that occurs naturally and can build up to dangerous levels inside homes, schools and other buildings. We asked 1,080 doctors if it should be mandated that radon levels be tested before a person moves into a new home or apartment and that the results be disclosed to the new tenant. Sixty-six percent of the doctors thought that this type of radon testing and disclosure should be required, supporting laws being considered in a number of states.
Now to the shocking result… or “dumb-founding” as one doctor we spoke with called it. Only 23 percent of doctors reported testing for gene mutations in people with lung cancer (poll of 1, 080 doctors). As personalized medicine becomes more and more popular, we were surprised that this is not more common. The encouraging part, though, is that of those who do test for gene mutations, 93 percent use the results to guide treatment decisions.
“As more resources are made available, I hope we will see genetic testing in lung cancer patients become more widespread so patients are able to receive treatments proven to work best for people like them,” said Dr. Morgan.