Editors note: this article is part I of a two-part series. Jenny White, a lung cancer survivor and advocate for radon testing and awareness, shared her story titled “Cinderella of Lung Cancer – and She Didn’t Smoke” which published 1/24/2017 in NOU Magazine.
Radon Awareness Month – Lung Cancer is NOT Just for Smokers
Did you know that not all cases of lung cancer are due to tobacco use? It’s true. Many people automatically assume when they hear the words lung cancer that it can only happen to smokers. According to public health authorities, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized just last week the month of January as National Radon Action Month.
Joining with state, tribal and local public health agencies, they are encouraging all Americans to test their homes for radon. “January is the time when we remind everyone to ‘test, fix and save a life.’ That’s because lung cancer due to radon can be prevented by testing, and if needed, fixing your home. It’s a simple and important way to help safeguard your family’s health,” said Jon Edwards, Director of EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. “Testing is inexpensive and test kits are readily available and easy to use. Reducing your family’s exposure to radon provides peace of mind, knowing that you’re doing the right thing to help avoid the toll taken by radon-induced lung cancer.”
Test your home and make 2017 a safer and healthier year. Many states offer free radon test kits through their state office of environment. Kits can also be purchased at home improvement stores for as little as $10.00. You can also visit the EPA’s website to locate test kits or radon mitigators.
Part II: Kim Parham, Lung Cancer Solutions: Follow-up on test results is important and early screening guidelines for those at-risk for lung cancer
Jenny White, author of part one of this series on lung cancer and radon does have a story to share with others. Many times, we have had chest x-rays or CT scans performed and not seen the results or even questioned what the results mean. I know I am guilty of this not only with imaging but pathology as well. Especially with pap smear testing. I just assume all is good unless the office calls me. In the increasing technology age, patient portals are becoming more common. You should be able to access your reports as soon as the healthcare providers have released them. However, some locations still do not have the electronic reporting portals or providers have decided against releasing results on the portals. Unless told otherwise, you should be able to obtain imaging, biopsy, or other medical test results performed within three business days. If you have not been told the results or seen the results, be proactive and ask for a copy of your report. If your healthcare provider does not discuss with you, call back with your questions or concerns. Education is empowerment and can make the difference.
One initiative that I have been proud to create and implement is an incidental (not expected) lung imaging follow-up program. Our goal was simple, have more early stage lung cancer diagnosis instead of late stage lung cancer diagnosis. At our facilities, a navigator was notified of any lung image performed by either a CT scan or chest x-ray that needs follow up in either several weeks or months but not urgent. We also implemented expedited appointments and follow up for nodules >8mm since the follow up is more urgent than a 5mm nodule. The navigator would coordinate the appropriate follow up with the primary care provider and expedite any scheduling appointments that may be needed.
Anytime you have a CT scan, if you have a <8mm incidental (not expected) finding, Fleischner’s Guidelines are dictated by the radiologist to help guide your primary care provider to the appropriate follow up for next steps. Within the guidelines, there are two categories of risk. Low risk follow up category means very minimal smoking history and high risk means you have a history of smoking or other known risk factors including family history and exposure to many environmental and chemicals including asbestos, victim of 9/11 exposure, and radon.
By having your home tested for radon, you can be informed and have your home mitigated if needed plus let your provider know of your increase risk if you ever have something not expected on an imaging test. Yes, smoking is a risk factor but there are many who develop lung cancer that have never smoked or even been around second hand smoke or any known toxic chemicals. Take advantage of the free or reduced cost testing kits. Testing for radon is a piece of mind to reduce your entire family’s potential risk of developing lung cancer.