Healthwatch 16: Smoking and Lung Cancer

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- Each year, on the third Thursday of November, the American Cancer Society encourages smokers across the nation to take part in the Great American Smokeout.

And it turns out its message is one we here in northeastern and central Pennsylvania need to hear.

There's no better day than the Great American Smokeout -- a day set aside to focus on quitting smoking -- to talk about lung cancer.

It isn't the most common cancer, but it is the number one cancer killer in the U.S., according to Dr. Matthew Facktor.

"It kills more people every year than the combination of breast, colon, and prostate, all three of those, deaths from those three are lower than deaths from lung cancer itself," said Dr. Facktor.

Dr. Facktor is the director of thoracic surgery at Geisinger Medical Center. He calls lung cancer a silent disease meaning unless you're looking for it, you may not find it until it's in an advanced stage.

Symptoms are generally late signs of it, which means screening for it is even more important.

Just like other cancer screening tests, Dr. Facktor would like to see more awareness of lung cancer screenings, but he adds only for someone who is at an increased risk, someone who is 55 to 80 years of age, with a heavy history of smoking, for example.

Your own doctor can help you decide if you're in a high-risk category and can help you find a smoking cessation program, if necessary.

That's a message he thinks much of this area needs to hear.

"Especially in our northeast region, the prevalence of smoking is extremely high, one of the highest percentages of smoking in the country."

It is not just smokers who are diagnosed with lung cancer. We heard from more than one doctor that all it takes to have a chance of developing lung cancer is to have lungs.