Although there are a number of risk factors for lung cancer, the most common has long been recognised as exposure to cigarette smoke.
A person’s risk increases with the number of cigarettes they smoke per day, according to thoracic surgeon at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation [GPHC], Dr. Zoilo Placeres Leon.
“When you are smoking more than five cigarettes per day for more than five years, your risk [for lung cancer] starts rising,” he revealed during Kaieteur Radio’s Programme, Your Health Matters, on Monday.
He pointed out that out of every 10 patients diagnosed with lung cancer, nine are as a result of smoking.
The lung cancer situation here, Dr. Leon said, is no different from the rest of the world except for the fact that most cases are diagnosed at a very advanced stage.
According to the Thoracic Surgeon, “At that time, there is little that we can do. Most of the time what we could do is diagnosis by doing a biopsy of the lungs, take samples, send to pathology, confirm the lung cancer and then send the patient to chemotherapy or radiation as a palliative treatment most of the time.”
As he continued to reference the late stage diagnosis situation, Dr. Leon revealed that “In the last five years, we were only able to do two lung resection [surgery] for lung cancer and we do 10, 15, 20 cases a year. So that probably means that (we do surgery on) less than 10 percent when the standard is around 20 percent,” said Dr. Leon.
This, he said, is due to the fact that the country does not yet have a strong primary health care service.
“The problem is that the diagnosis most of the time is hidden by other pathologies. Most of the doctors that work in the regions, and they are general practitioners, they treat patients at the beginning as TB because it is a very common pathology in Guyana.
“Sometimes they treat lung cancer as pneumonia so when these patients’ problems are not resolved, usually after months, they are referred to us,” said Dr. Leon.
Moreover, most patients with lung cancer are merely afforded palliative care.
“As a thoracic surgeon, you have a role in providing palliative care. Sometimes patients come with fluid between the lungs and the thoracic cage…When that fluid accumulates the lungs can’t work and usually the patient comes with shortness of breath,” Dr. Leon explained.
To address this, the thoracic surgeon revealed that a procedure called pleural effusion is conducted. It helps to prevent the fluid from returning. On other occasions, he said, “We have to place a catheter in the chest to drain the fluid.”
He added, “usually when you have a patient with stage four lung cancer without treatment…and they have pleural effusion, they don’t live more than six months; survival is very low.”
According to Dr. Leon, even if persons stop smoking, their risk never goes down to that of the non-smoking population. Moreover, the thoracic surgeon emphasised that the best way to tackle lung cancer is through prevention.
“The best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking,” he asserted.
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