Lung cancer kills more Kentuckians every year than the next eight most common cancers combined. Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) is working to reduce lung cancer incidences and deaths in the state through advanced screening technologies.


The American Cancer Society reports that Kentucky leads the nation in both lung cancer incidences and lung cancer deaths, with an incidence rate of 80 per 100,000 and a death rate of 75 per 100,000. That is well above the national average of 55.


Smoking is the main cause of all lung cancer, which contributes to roughly 85 percent of all lung cancer deaths.


Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker. Women who smoke are 13 times more likely to develop this devastating cancer.


Roughly 29 percent of Kentuckians are smokers, compared to 21 percent nationally.


Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining the air passages. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell cancer progresses quickly and is likely to spread beyond the lungs. Non-small cell cancer is more common, grows slowly and is less likely to spread.


Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.


More than half of people with lung cancer will die within just one year of diagnosis.


“There are many different types of cancers that we know are related to smoking. Obviously lung cancer is one of the major ones, and it has a high mortality rate,” said Dr. Brad Collett, PMC Radiation Oncologist.


“Other cancers that are related to smoking are head and neck, bladder, anal, esophageal and upper GI (gastro-intestinal) which we see a lot of in the eastern Kentucky region,” explained Dr. Collett. “This is probably related to early smoking history and heavy smoking in adult years.”


By the time it shows any symptoms, lung cancer has often already spread throughout the lungs, or in some cases, to other places in the body.


“While there have been some improvements in lung cancer treatment over the last decade, it remains a cancer that we don’t have great rates of cure for,” Dr. Collett continued. “Unfortunately, when many patients present with lung cancer, they are already in the later stages of the disease. Also, those who are smokers typically have poor lung function making it difficult to treat the cancer aggressively.”


The goal is to detect it at an early stage when the patient is showing no signs or symptoms.


Unfortunately, early stage lung cancer is often asymptomatic, so it is important that to be screened for it. PMC offers low-dose CT scans, which are extremely effective at detecting lung cancers.


While a chest X-ray served as the previous method, this improved technology employs a low-dose of radiation to make a series of very detailed pictures of the lungs, scanning the body in a spiral path.


This gives doctors an incredible amount of detail and allows them to see even the smallest cancer growth.


Data shows that using low-dose CT is four times more likely to pick up a mass than a traditional chest X-ray, allowing for earlier detection and a better chance at survival.


The low-dose CT scan detects lung cancer in the early stages, which improves the patient’s outcome. This gives the patient more treatment options as well.


Lung cancer can be difficult to spot because symptoms are non-specific. Some symptoms can include: chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, feeling very tired all the time, weight loss with no known cause and coughing that gets worse and doesn’t go way.


If these symptoms persist in someone with a history of smoking, consult with a physician immediately.


For those who have smoked more than 30 years and are between the ages of 55 and 79, screening is recommended.


“Please don’t start smoking,” urges Dr. Collett, “and if you are able to quit tobacco, your risk of developing some types of cancer goes down significantly over time.”


To learn more about lung cancer screenings, call the Leonard Lawson Cancer Center at 606-218-2212 or visit