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November brings awareness to highly prevalent lung cancer


November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, bringing the spotlight to the country's deadliest form of cancer. There will be an estimated 130,000 lung cancer deaths in 2022.

Michael Skokan, pulmonary critical-care physician, said many of these deaths are preventable and the first action people can take is to stop smoking.

Skokan said the disease historically has presented some challenges to doctors.

"When you find it at an early stage, you can treat it," Skokan said. "But over the years we hadn't been good at doing that because people don't really have symptoms, and once they have symptoms it's usually a later stage and it's spread and its much, much more difficult to treat and sometimes it's not treatable."

Skokan said people who have not yet quit smoking and meet certain criteria are able to get screened for the cancer with a C-T scan of their lungs. The scan helps doctors identify early-stage lung cancers and the tool has been around for about a decade.

COVID-19 has an effect on lung health but no direct link with cancer. However, Skokan said, the pandemic did affect treatment, with many people avoiding the doctor's office.

"People who got other things during that time when everything was really problematic in getting care - that affected a lot of people who didn't necessarily have COVID but got other things," he said, "including lung disease or lung cancer, and couldn't get treated as timely as we had been able to do in the past."

While the number of deaths is still high, Skokan noted that they have been going down in recent years for a few reasons.

"Number one, less people smoking," Skokan said. "So we're starting to see the effects of that. And the other thing is that our treatments are getting better. So people who present with lung cancer - we now have more options for treatment and people are living longer."

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.
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