GUEST COLUMN: The Impact on Lung Cancer Care in a COVID-19 World | Columns

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to the world and in particular to those who are already affected by pre-existing diseases such as lung cancer. Kentucky has the highest lung cancer incidence rate in the country, which is not surprising given the high smoking rates in the Commonwealth. Five-year survival rates for lung cancer are appalling, mainly because the disease is diagnosed at later stages, when a cure is much less likely.

Every November, we observe Lung Cancer Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight the complications people with lung cancer face, as well as ways to avoid the risks and improve outcomes for lung cancer patients.

Throughout the pandemic, healthcare resources have been strained, causing complications around the world for patients seeking long-term treatment for health conditions other than COVID-19. Many facilities have not only seen surgery delays due to the pandemic, but also fewer cancer screenings during that time, with lung cancer screenings down 56%, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. As the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, lung cancer is a disease that is especially important to understand during this epidemic.

While vulnerable groups were at high risk of contracting COVID-19 over the past two years, those with lung cancer, lung disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as those who are currently undergoing a cancer treatment, have been particularly susceptible to respiratory disease, with their bodies already immunocompromised and more prone to infections. While many of these patients have taken steps to ensure their safety during the pandemic, others remain at risk of developing complications from the virus due to their lung disease.

To reduce the risk of lung cancer or lung disease, don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke, as well as exposure to radon or asbestos. Other risk factors for lung disease also include having a personal or family history of lung cancer, or having had radiation therapy to the lungs.

If you have any of these risk factors, regular testing is important. Ask your health care provider about regular lung cancer screenings to quickly detect any changes in your body or lungs. When lung cancer is caught early, before it spreads, it is more likely to be treated successfully.

Maintaining long-term lung health is essential, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. Talk to your healthcare provider about the COVID-19 vaccine if you haven’t already been vaccinated as another layer of protection. Your lung health has never been more important.

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