Published on November 16, 2018

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month

MaineGeneral's physicians share what you need to know

by Akshu Balwan, MD, MaineGeneral Pulmonary and Seth Blank, MD, and Alfred Proto, MD, MaineGeneral Surgery (Thoracic)

Many people are surprised to learn that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in Maine and nationally. In fact, Maine’s lung cancer rate is 30 percent higher than the national average.

In 2017, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (Maine CDC) estimates that there were 1,450 new lung cancer cases and 970 lung cancer deaths in Maine. The five-year survival rate of lung cancer is one of the lowest among all cancers. Additionally, 75 percent of lung cancers are detected at a late stage when treatment is less beneficial and outcomes are worse.

Smoking causes most lung cancers. However, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. One in three homes in Maine has levels of radon that exceed the US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

MaineGeneral Medical Center is one of the state health care systems participating in the Maine Lung Cancer Coalition (MLCC). The MLCC seeks to ease the burden of lung cancer in Maine through prevention, early detection and treatment.

The good news is that a low-dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screening test is available to detect lung cancer earlier when it’s more treatable. LDCT is like mammography for breast cancer.

For people at risk for lung cancer, LDCT screening should be done on an annual basis.

Medicare and most private insurances cover a LDCT for people who are 55-80 and have a heavy smoking history. While you may not meet the insurance requirements, now is a good time to talk to your doctor to reduce your risks.

The MLCC is working hard to increase the number of people who are getting screened for lung cancer. According to a report compiled by the Maine CDC, 18 facilities in Maine provide lung cancer screening. Among these facilities, 3,218 baseline screening LDCTs were performed in 2017, with the highest number of screenings occurring in Kennebec County.

Since 2015, MaineGeneral’s Radiology Department conducted 1,755 screenings for lung cancer. Since LDCT screening started at MaineGeneral in 2015, doctors are seeing the numbers of cancers caught in Stage 1 and 2 steadily increase. This is great news because doctors can treat and, in some cases, cure the cancer before it has spread.

If lung cancer is found, MaineGeneral provides a complete set of services for state-of-the-art care, including diagnostic testing and treatment with specialists in thoracic surgery, medical and radiation oncology and interventional pulmonology through the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care. This care is available in one place, right here in the Kennebec Valley. There is no need to travel to get a screening done and, if needed, treatment.

While screening is critical, a lung cancer screening in not a substitute for stopping smoking, which is the most effective way to lower your risk for lung cancer. MaineGeneral works to connect people to the Maine Tobacco Helpline, which provides free and confidential tobacco treatment.

Talk to your primary care provider to learn about your risk and whether a low-dose CT scan is right for you. If you need a doctor, call MaineGeneral toll-free at 1-855-464-4463. You can also find more information about our comprehensive services by visiting