If you are a Laborer who has quit smoking, congratulations. Giving up cigarettes is one of the most important steps you can take for your health. But it’s also important to understand that while your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure may eventually be similar to someone who never smoked, your risk for lung cancer will always be higher than a non-smoker’s.
Did you know that as a former smoker you may be eligible for an annual lung cancer screening?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults aged 55 to 80 who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Research suggests an annual LDCT screening could reduce lung cancer deaths in this group by as much as 20 percent and prevent about 12,000 deaths from lung cancer every year.
LDCT is preferable to a chest x-ray because it can often detect lung cancer at an earlier stage when it is most easily treated. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) considers this screening to be preventive care, making it available at no extra cost under many health plans, including Medicare.
“Lung cancer screening is especially important for construction workers who smoke,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “The problems that smoking causes are well-known, but they can be aggravated by exposure to materials commonly found at construction sites like silica and asbestos. A construction worker who smokes is 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a construction worker who is a non-smoker.”
Unfortunately, for reasons that include health care providers not making them aware or because they think there will be co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses, most eligible smokers and former smokers do not get a yearly LDCT screening. The American Cancer Society (ACS) found that while nearly seven million qualified in 2015, only about 260,000 received it.
A Top Killer Fueled by Smoking
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and increases risk for other cancers as well. More than 156,000 people in the U.S. die from lung cancer every year and more than 212,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed.
Lung cancer is extremely difficult to treat because early symptoms are often subtle and mimic other less deadly conditions. If you have any of these symptoms and they linger, see your health care provider as soon as possible:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
If you are now or once were a heavy smoker, find out from your health care provider if your preventive care should include an annual screening for lung cancer.
Quit Smoking with Help from the LHSFNA
The LHSFNA’s Laborers’ Guide to Tobacco offers suggestions and tips for breaking the tobacco habit. The Fund’s Quit Smoking Survival Kits include helpful quitting tips and a coupon for over the counter nicotine replacement therapies such as gum and lozenges intended to help people quit smoking. Call the Fund’s Health Promotion division at 202-628-5465 to order. Additional materials on the hazards of tobacco can be ordered through the Fund’s website at www.lhsfna.org by clicking on Publications.
The American Cancer Society also offers a guide for quitting smoking. Call 1-800-227-2345 for additional information.
What Is a Pack Year?
A pack year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
You can calculate your pack year number by going to www.shouldiscreen.com and clicking on “Calculate My Lung Cancer Risk.”
[Janet Lubman Rathner]