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Insights into lung cancer in B.C.: Early detection and survival rates

The third in the series of insights into lung cancer in B.C., this article highlights how early detection can improve survival rates and why lung cancer remains the deadliest cancer in B.C.
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As we have learned earlier in this series, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in B.C. Six British Columbians die of lung cancer every day. A significant factor in the high mortality rate is because of the stage in which lung cancer is detected. Half of all lung cancers are diagnosed at stage 4, at which point survival is extremely low. Symptoms of lung cancer are often unnoticeable at the earlier stages, when there are more treatment options available and better outcomes for patients. 

“Some early lung cancer symptoms for people to be aware of includes a persistent cough for more than 2 months, or if long term smokers notice a change in a chronic cough,” says Dr. Stephen Lam distinguished scientist, Leon Judah Blackmore Chair in lung cancer research and director of the MDS/Rix Early Lung Detection Program at BC Cancer. “Anyone coughing blood, experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in their bones or unexplained weight loss should connect with their family physician right away.” 
If lung cancer is caught earlier, in Stage IA, Dr. Lam says the survival rate is over 70%. Earlier this year, BC Cancer announced it will be launching the first lung cancer screening program in Canada. BC Cancer was the first cancer program in the world to introduce cervical screening in 1955 and the first in Canada to implement breast screening in 1988. Both programs have improved survival rates for cervical and breast cancer. 

“The lung screening program is going to be a game changer for British Columbians” says Dr. Lam. “Both survival rates and quality of life will be significantly improved by detecting cancer early and when it’s curable. The new lung cancer screening program will mean more treatment options, faster recovery and better outcomes for people around the province.”
BC Cancer’s new lung cancer screening program aims to detect lung cancers early for high risk individuals – those who are between the ages of 55-74 who currently smoke or have a history of heavy tobacco use. Once fully implemented, in early 2022, approximately 20,000 people per year will be provided lung cancer screening leading to 340 diagnoses each year with more than 75% of those cases diagnosed in an early stage when more treatment options are available. 

In the next 5-10 years, Dr. Lam hopes to see the program expand even farther to a broader population, not just those who have smoked heavily. 

For more information on the new lung cancer screening program, visit BC Cancer’s lung screening page. Until the full provincial program is rolled out, the BC Lung Screen Trial will continue to accept referrals from eligible B.C. residents. 


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