How to Convince a Smoker You Love to Get a CT Lung Cancer Screening
If you’ve never smoked, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to quit. Maybe even harder to imagine what it’s like to continue to smoke, year after year, knowing you’re increasing your odds for lung cancer. Rachel Carlson watched this smoking cycle play out in her own family. Her mother smoked for decades, feeling guilty the whole time.
“I think people who have lung cancer are afraid to admit that their smoking may have caused their cancer.”
Rachel’s mom had finally convinced herself to find help to stop smoking – had even enrolled in a cessation program – when a diagnosis changed her life. Lung cancer. The two words from the oncologist sounded like a death sentence. Years of begging her mother to quit had come to this.
Get Over the Stigma
It’s not unusual for smokers to feel ashamed, says Nancy Torrison of A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation. Every day she works with lung cancer patients and their families, who know the stigma of smoking all too well.
“People make all kinds of personal choices that are not healthy. We’ve got obesity problems and we’ve got inactivity and we’ve got so many personal choices that aren’t healthy, but we really, really blame lung cancer patients and sometimes make them feel like they brought it on themselves.”
So with that shame, the stigma attached, and the sense of personal responsibility – convincing someone you love to take action can seem impossible. But being persuasive can be lifesaving. That’s because there’s a simple scan that can capture images of your lungs and help diagnose lung cancer earlier. It’s called a low-dose CT lung cancer screening.
Explain the Test
Talking a smoker into getting the test may not be easy. Start by explaining how it works. CAT scans have been around for a long time, but CT lung cancer screening was recently endorsed for screening smoking patients for early detection of lung cancers, explains Dr. James Sullivan, a radiologist at Center for Diagnostic Imaging. Here’s how the test works:
- You lie on your back in the CT scanner
- You hold your breath during the scan
- The test takes approximately 30 seconds
A radiologist studies the pictures of your lungs and delivers them to your doctor for follow-up. What they’re looking for are very early stage signs of cancer. “The CAT scan allows us to see in high detail all the anatomy of the lung and what we’re able to detect is very, very small lung nodules,” says Dr. Sullivan. Finding those cancerous nodules at an early stage means you have a much better chance of treating them.
Share the Facts
Why is discovering lung cancer early so critical? You can find the answer in some startling statistics:
- The lung cancer survival rate is 17% (American Lung Association)
- Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined
- That makes lung cancer the most-deadly type of cancer in the U.S.
- 83% of people diagnosed with lung cancer die within 5 years
One of the reasons for these deadly statistics is because lung cancer is often caught in late stage – meaning Stage 3 or Stage 4 – when it has already spread to other body parts. Stage 3 and 4 lung cancer is tough to beat. Dr. Sullivan says, for a long time, doctors didn’t really have early detection capabilities. But low-dose CT lung cancer screening has changed that.
“Now that we have CT, a lot of the early lung cancers can be treated with minimally invasive techniques that allow the removal of the lung cancer, oftentimes with an overnight stay.”
An overnight stay vs. a death sentence. Ask the smoker in your life which option they would choose. A 1-minute preventative screening can make all the difference. Medicare has approved coverage of low-dose CT scans for people who are at the most risk for lung cancer (to find out if you or your loved one qualifies, click here).
Tell a Story
Sometimes the most convincing argument goes beyond the facts. If sharing the statistics and explaining what the test is like aren’t enough to persuade your loved one to get screened, try telling a story.
Rachel’s mom never had a CT lung cancer screening. Seven years ago, she wasn’t even aware of the test. But she did feel something strange in the left side of her chest. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, says Rachel. Then she got sick with a bad cough that wouldn't go away. For 8 months she battled pneumonia, repeated sinus infections, and bronchitis. X-rays hadn’t yet caught the mass on her left lung. When it was finally diagnosed, the treatment options were painful and aggressive.
Would she have gone in for a CT lung cancer screening test? Rachel doesn’t know if she could have convinced her mom back then to do it. Now it’s too late. After facing lung cancer for nearly five years, she lost her fight. Today, Rachel wants others to have the chance her mom didn’t get. She works with A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation to push for more awareness for screening options. She wants people like her mom to know they have a choice to get screened … even before symptoms start. “I think people are ready to be screened for this to try and give themselves a fighting chance.”
About Dr. Sullivan
James H. Sullivan, M.D. is a board certified body radiologist and breast imaging specialist at Center for Diagnostic Imaging (CDI) in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota. A radiologist for more than 20 years, Dr. Sullivan has extensive experience in outpatient and inpatient settings in Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as procedural expertise that includes biopsies and injections. Read his full bio here.
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