In 2022, an estimated 6,000 New Jersey residents will be diagnosed with lung cancer and about 3,000 deaths, said Dr. Robert Smith, senior vice president for cancer screening at the American Cancer Society.

In the U.S. lung cancer is the second most common cause of cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer death, and it has been in men for seven decades, and four decades for women, he added.

Both smokers and former smokers are susceptible to lung cancer, but people who have never smoked can also get it, Smith said.

Getting screened early is key

For the longest time, there was never a proven screening strategy to detect lung cancer in its early stages. But Smith said in the last 10 years that has changed.

“We have a proven screening strategy which is low-dose CT and we have made amazing progress in identifying mutations that patients with lung cancer may have that would direct them to a targeted therapy or an immunotherapy that tends to have much, much better outcomes than conventional chemotherapy,” Smith said.

The time is now for doctors to do a much better job at finding lung cancer early and offer patients more personalized medicine for their treatment, he added.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, and pain. These symptoms should never be neglected especially for those who are at higher risk of getting lung cancer. Smith said they should see a physician right away.

But he also said that when you think about the symptoms of lung cancer, these are symptoms of already advanced lung cancer and treatment at this stage becomes more of a challenge.

What is the best way to attack lung cancer symptoms?

What Smith wants to promote these days is that people who are eligible for screening based on their age and their tobacco-use history and have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer should get screened annually. This is for people, 50 years of age and older and who have a 20-pack-a-year or greater smoking history.

Do not wait for symptoms to appear. Get screened annually, he said. This also applies to former smokers. Getting screened annually will give people the greatest opportunity to detect lung cancer early and give doctors better success at treating it.

However, the screening does not apply to those who never smoked. At least, not now.

“There will be a time in the future where we will have that opportunity to identify those people of high risk of lung cancer, not as a function of having smoked,” Smith said.

What is the stigma regarding lung cancer?

Smith said those who smoked are usually blamed for their disease, whether it’s from family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even people in the medical field.

He said that is unfortunate because what happens is, people with lung cancer often feel undeserving of health care. This is something that needs to be overcome.

This blame does not happen with other cancers, only lung cancer, he said, because people associate it with smoking--a habit that could have been avoided.

What are some treatments?

Smith said there are therapies for which specific mutations are identified that tell doctors if those therapies will be successful.

When talking about personalized and precision medicine, these therapies for lung cancer screening are among the biggest breakthroughs.

“Lung cancer survival for most people who are diagnosed with advanced stage historically has been very, very poor. But now we are seeing vastly improved survival for people who have these therapies,” Smith said.

What is the takeaway?

Smith said smokers and former smokers need to have a conversation with their doctors to see if they are eligible for lung cancer screenings.

“If you are, give serious consideration to making this part of your preventative health care. At this point in time, the uptake in lung cancer screenings is lower than we would like to see,” Smith said.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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