The National Cancer Institute is reporting a decrease in the number of lung cancer cases. Dr. Brendon Stiles, thoracic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says that’s actually not a good thing. While a decrease in the number of lung cancer diagnoses may sound positive, this decline doesn't mean fewer people are getting lung cancer. Rather, it means more people are living with undiagnosed lung cancer and facing significant delays in treatment. In ordinary circumstances, he says, we would be trilled that there is a decrease in lung cancers diagnoses.
Dr. Stiles said diagnoses are down by as much as 50% in many states. That doesn’t mean these cancers aren’t happening it just means they aren’t being detected because of COVID-19. So, there’s a lot of people going undiagnosed and untreated and potentially threatening their lives and their survival because of it. He goes on to say we necessarily had to slow down or stop screenings in some places, which he thinks was the right thing at the time. At his hospital they had over 200 patients in their ICU at one point and another 400 in the hospital and basically everyone in the hospital was treating COVID for a while. Dr. Stiles says we’ve gotten past that now and as we see COVID making its way around geographically to different areas we can’t ignore the other health problems, cancers, heart disease and other things we know are occurring.
Mel Camp asks Dr. Stiles what are some of the symptoms we should look for before it is too late. Dr. Stiles says part of the problem is a lot of the symptoms are respiratory symptoms and a lot of the symptoms of COVID are respiratory symptoms, so things like a couth, shortness of breath, fatigue; all overlap with lung cancer. He says they like to find lung cancer when its is A-symptomatic with screenings but if symptoms arise it’s probably a more advanced stage. He goes on to say besides the things he said above, bone pain and coughing up blood are really quite alarming, and you shouldn’t wait to be worked up. Dr. Stiles says it’s a great time to get in touch with your doctor. He says thinks a lot of patients were reluctant and they are missing a lot of diseases not just lung cancer. There are opportunities in different ways to do it like telemedicine. There has never been a more important time to be in touch with our primary care physicians and pulmonologist. When asked what you should consider if you are diagnosed with lung cancer and you’re going into treatment since there is a pandemic going on in the world right now. He says it’s a tough call but don’t be scared. His hospital and a lot of hospitals have taken an inordinate amount of precautions to protect patients, but we can take care of our patients well whether that’s surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. He says communication with your doctor is really critical, telecommunications whenever they can; where it’s appropriate and finding a way to get these patients treated because we know we are missing a lot of lung cancer patients.
Remember to get your screening done.