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Screening Versus Cessation: An Either-Or Fallacy

I just came across an article in MedPage Today with the following headline: “Lung Cancer Screening or Smoking Cessation: Which is the Better Bet?” A subtitle stated, “Two lung cancer experts offer their opposing perspectives on where limited healthcare resources should go.”

Really? We’re still having this archaic discussion? Has not the science ended that discussion?

Faults of smoking cessation programs

For decades, smoking cessation programs were the primary tool in our arsenal for battling lung cancer. Frankly, that is one reason lung cancer is the number one cancer killer today. Historically, lung cancer has had very little research funding, resulting in feckless treatment for lung cancer patients.

Since my own diagnosis nearly 13 years ago, more than 2 million Americans have died from lung cancer. Were these folks unaware that smoking would increase their risk for developing lung cancer? No. Many of those people could not quit smoking because they never started. Even more people, like me, quit smoking years or even decades before their diagnosis.

Relying on research discoveries

I can’t believe that instead of moving forward to build upon our scientific discoveries —- such as finding new, safe and effective screening for the tens of thousands of people diagnosed each year with lung cancer who never smoked -- some are arguing in favor of withholding screening from those whose lives potentially could be saved.

That is a shame.

We finally have a scientifically proven method for early detection of lung cancer, the number one cancer killer by far. Yet, some want to throw it away like yesterday’s trash.

I wonder if these folks arguing against screening know anyone who has been saved by lung cancer screening. I do. Their lives matter. So do the ones yet to be saved. People who are alive thanks to screening are living evidence that should end the discussion.

Acknowledging the whole picture

You see, it is not a matter of choice. For those who meet the screening requirements, based on age and smoking history, the protocols include a smoking cessation component.

Considering that approximately 50% of lung cancer diagnoses are in FORMER smokers and another 15% are NEVER smokers, focusing exclusively on smoking cessation shows a reckless disregard for human life.1,2

Those who adhere to the smoking cessation only solution have had their chance.

For the love of God, can we agree that lung cancer patients need much more than a smoking cessation program -- especially considering most of them are not current smokers?

Advocating for screening

As a lung cancer survivor and advocate, I want to see more screening, not less. We need a national public awareness campaign about screening, which many primary care providers and those at risk are clueless about.

More importantly, we desperately need screening for all. Do not misunderstand. I am not advocating for CT scanning for everyone. That would do more harm than good. I am advocating for safe, economical screening for everyone, such as a breath or blood test.

It’s particularly distressing to see medical professionals take a stand against lung cancer screening. If scientists would focus more on improving and expanding screening methods and less on trying to withhold screening to save money (or punish smokers), the world would be a better place.

Let's stop playing this judgmental blame game. Let's move forward and look beyond Low-Dose CT scans and try to find an efficient, effective, economical and safe way to screen ALL people—including the tens of thousands diagnosed each year who never put a cigarette to their lips.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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