Providence Journal: Saurabh Agarwal - A Powerful Opportunity To Save Lives
Earlier this year, our neighbors to the north, in Massachusetts, became the sixth state in the nation to pass a statewide measure raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
Earlier this month, our friends to the west, in Hartford, Connecticut, did the same.
While Rhode Island has yet to follow suit to protect our youth, there is no question that smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. It is related to 80 to 90 percent of lung-cancer deaths, and lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in America. In fact, more people die from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
As a radiologist who specializes in the lungs and heart, I have seen too many examples of how devastating lung cancer can be for patients and their families. Many of my patients have been smoking for decades, starting when they were very young, or even kids. Quitting can be extremely difficult, and even after someone conquers the addiction, there are long-term health effects from smoking.
Too few current and former smokers are aware that a new method of lung-cancer screening may be available to them, and may even save their lives. Low-dose CT screening enables early detection of lung cancer, before it causes any signs or symptoms. It allows doctors to find and treat the cancer before it spreads.
Anyone can get lung cancer, and it’s important for everyone to be proactive about knowing their risk for the disease, especially former smokers who may not realize they are still at risk.
This November, for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I am committed to raising awareness about this life-saving tool, and I’m asking my fellow Rhode Islanders to educate themselves about the disease, their risk factors and the dangers of smoking. It is estimated that in 2018 alone, 880 people in Rhode Island will be diagnosed with lung cancer — but if we are committed to early detection in high-risk patients, we know that we can save some of those lives.
Much more needs to be done to raise awareness of lung cancer and the availability of lung-cancer screening in our community. That’s why I am joining the American Lung Association’s effort to encourage all former and current smokers to visit SavedByTheScan.org and take an easy lung cancer screening eligibility quiz to learn if they may be at high risk and eligible for screening. Screening is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans for those who meet the high-risk criteria.
Amplifying the discussion about lung-cancer screening and disease awareness is critical for the smokers of today and yesterday. For our children, and the potential smokers of tomorrow, I hope Rhode Island follows the lead of the communities of Barrington and Central Falls in raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21. Limiting access to tobacco products is an evidence-based way to reduce the number of patients who will need lung-cancer screenings in the future, and to reduce the burden of lung cancer in future generations.
Lung cancer is a devastating disease, and no one deserves to get it. By urging eligible loved ones to get screened and raising the age to buy tobacco, we have a powerful opportunity to save lives and change the narrative about this disease.
Saurabh Agarwal, M.D., of East Greenwich, is a cardiothoracic radiologist at Rhode Island Medical Imaging and Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He is chair of the American Lung Association’s Rhode Island LUNG FORCE Expo.