Dr. Keith Ayrons

Fifty years ago, the 1964 Surgeon General report first warned smoking can be linked to cancer, and declared “war on smoking.” Since then, smoking rates have fallen, a lot. More than 40% of adults smoked in 1964; today, it's less than 15%.

Yet tobacco use remains high in parts of the country, and that helps explain certain spikes in cancer deaths, too. Reports from 2016 show that 4 million students between middle school and high school smoked, with over 50% of them using two or more tobacco products.

Still smoking is down, but almost 38 million American adults still smoke. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year. Even more alarming, according to a study published in 2015, in JAMA Internal Medicine, smoking causes nearly 50% of deaths from 12 common cancers.

Study findings: Where there's smoke, there's cancer! Overall, the researchers determined that 48.5% of the total deaths from 12 cancers can be linked directly to cigarette smoking, including cancer of the colorectum; esophagus; kidney and renal pelvis; larynx; liver and intrahepatic bile duct; lung, bronchus, and trachea; myeloid leukemia; oral cavity and pharynx; pancreas; stomach; urinary bladder; and uterine cervix.

Quitting is important for anyone who smokes tobacco — even people who have smoked for many years. For people who already have cancer, quitting may reduce the chance of getting another cancer.

Quitting smoking is not easy, but it can be done — many millions of Americans have stopped — and it could be the most important thing you will ever do for your health. Your body begins to heal itself rapidly when you quit smoking: Levels of carbon monoxide and nicotine decline, sense of taste and smell improve, and breathing becomes easier, all within 72 hours. Ask your doctor about medicine or nicotine replacement therapy, such as a patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray of inhaler. Your doctor can suggest a number of treatments that help people quit.

The Mission Hope Cancer Center has a proactive lung cancer screening program for those with a high risk of developing lung cancer. The screening, which only takes minutes to complete, produces detailed images of the lungs and other structures inside the chest. If any abnormalities are present, the scan will be reviewed by a dedicated multidisciplinary team of physicians that specialize in the treatment and diagnosis of lung cancer. Once reviewed, our physicians will discuss options for further evaluation and treatment with patients and their primary care physician, if necessary.

Mission Hope Cancer Center has been named a Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA). Designated Screening Centers of Excellence are committed to provide clear information based on current evidence on who is a candidate for lung cancer screening, and comply with comprehensive standards based on best practices developed by professional bodies such as the American College of Radiology (ACR), the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) for monitoring screening quality, radiation dose and diagnostic procedures within an experienced, multi-disciplinary clinical setting.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women worldwide; however, it is the only cancer not subject to routine screening. With our screening program, we can save the lives of patients at high risk for lung cancer through early detection. We want to bring awareness to individuals that meet the criteria for screening and are pleased that our commitment to responsible lung cancer screening has been nationally recognized as a screening center of excellence and proud to be among the 21 facilities in California to have received this prestigious designation.

If you have questions or think you are you a candidate for our lung cancer screening program? Please call Carol, our Nurse Navigator, at 805-346-3463.

Dr. Keith Ayrons is Board Certified and Fellowship trained in Medical Oncology and Hematology. As an associate of Central Coast Medical Oncology located in Santa Maria at Mission Hope Cancer Center, he treats people with cancer and hematology disorders. Dr. Ayrons also serves as a member of the Marian Regional Medical Center’s and Arroyo Grande Community Hospital’s specialized oncology staff. He can be reached at 349-9393.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Cancer Care invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org

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