November 28 to December 4
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. In Northeast Pennsylvania, lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death. The number of new cases diagnosed each year is 19 percent higher than the U.S. average, and the death rate for this cancer in Northeast Pennsylvania is also significantly higher than the U.S. rate. If there is good news in the lung cancer numbers it is that, compared to prior years, more of these tumors are diagnosed earlier, when they are much easier to treat and cure. For example, the proportion of new lung cancer cases diagnosed at the earliest stage increased from 16.4 percent in 2015 to 23.4 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which complete data is available. This increase, while small, was statistically significant and moving in the right direction. Preliminary data from 2018 suggests that the improvement has continued.
The improvement in the detection of early stage lung cancers is consistent with the introduction of screening for lung cancer by low-dose CT scans. Lung-cancer screening among high-risk smokers using this special CT scan has been covered by Medicare since 2015. So, the good news is that more lung cancers are being caught early. The bad news is that only about one quarter of new lung cancers are diagnosed at this stage. This is likely because fewer than 5 percent of eligible smokers have been screened.
We encourage all who are eligible to be screened for lung cancer. If you are a current or former smoker, between 55 and 77 years of age and have smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, speak with your doctor about lung-cancer screening. For more details on screening eligibility, see www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic-info/screening.htm. Not all lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking; second-hand tobacco smoke, radon and asbestos are examples of other exposures that increase the risk of this cancer. Some individuals will develop this cancer despite never being exposed to any of the known or suspected cancer risk factors. Still, tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for this disease. For this reason, screening for lung cancer is only recommended for heavy smokers at this time. Besides avoiding tobacco smoke, screening is our best tool for preventing lung cancer deaths.
Karen Ryczak, RN and Samuel Lesko, MD, MPH
Northeast Regional Cancer Institute
The current jumble of healthcare plans has left millions of people without adequate or affordable healthcare. Single-payer plans like the New York Health Act offer comprehensive healthcare coverage, including hearing aids, dental, vision, prescriptions and more to all, regardless of age, income, existing medical conditions, employment, or immigration status. There are no premiums, co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket or out-of-network expenses, and you choose your own medical providers. Program cost is based on a graduated income scale. People [earning] $25,000 a year or less pay nothing at all. This is how the Affordable Care Act was supposed to work before the for-profit insurance industry wrecked it.
The NY Health Act is not an unaffordable pipedream. Financial analysis by UMASS/Amherst Economics Department Chairman Gerald Friedman found that 98 percent of New Yorkers will pay much less for a lot better healthcare under NY Health. Even with the greatly expanded coverage, there is a net savings for New York of $45 billion a year.
The NY Health plan is a silver-bullet cure for what ails our current healthcare system. With funding cutbacks and spiraling healthcare costs, when people can’t affaord the healthcare they need, we cannot allow this vital legislation, that will benefit so many, to be blocked by a few special interests. There is no room for profiteering in healthcare. We must pass the NY Health Act now. It will save lives, it will save money, and it’s the right thing to do.
Star D. Hesse, SLAC