This month, people across the nation will take action to raise lung-cancer awareness, as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM). By organizing rallies and fund-raising events, speaking with the media, and distributing educational activities, they hope to bring attention to the devastating disease that kills more people than any other type of cancer. Although LCAM is celebrated nationwide, only Maine and New Jersey have officially proclaimed November as LCAM. A campaign run by the Lung Cancer Alliance hopes to result in many more states making the declaration.
Approximately one out of every six cancer-related deaths is the result of lung cancer. Around 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and about three-fourths of them (or 150,000 people) will die from it.
Although lung cancer is often thought of as a smoker’s disease – and smoking is the highest risk factor for lung cancer – 10% to 20% of those who are diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Other risk factors include secondhand smoke (smoke from other people’s cigarettes,) radon gas, asbestos, radiation, and chronic emphysema or bronchitis. Genetics can also play a role in lung cancer risk.
Symptoms of lung cancer can widely vary, with some people reporting no symptoms at all, especially in the early stages. However, many experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic cough (sometimes producing blood,) chest or upper back pain, hoarseness of the voice, and wheezing. Because these symptoms can all be indicative of many other illnesses, it’s important to contact your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms.
Early detection is critical with lung cancer, as survival rates are much higher if the cancer is diagnosed before it has spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, this only happens around 15% of the time. Lung cancer can often be detected by chest x-ray, CT, PET, or MRI scan; however a definitive lung cancer diagnoses can only be made following a tissue biopsy.
The most common treatments for lung cancer are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, and most lung cancer patients utilize more than one form of treatment. In early stage cancers, surgery is often used to remove a portion of, or the entire lung. Chemotherapy (the administration of strong cancer-killing chemicals) can be used alone, or combined with surgery or radiation. As a systemic therapy, it travels through the body, so it’s often used in cases where the cancer has spread. Radiation treatment uses power energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. The precision of which it can be administered can reduce the damage to surrounding cells, lessening the side effects which a patient may experience.
If you’re applying for Social Security Disability due to lung cancer, there are a few different ways you can qualify.
First, lung cancer is included in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Listing of Impairments, also known as the "Blue Book." This means that if you meet the criteria established in the listing, you’ll automatically qualify for benefits. Listing 13.14, for lung cancer, requires that you have one of the following:
- Non-small-cell carcinoma which is inoperable, unresectable, recurrent, or metastatic to or beyond the hilar nodes.
- Small-cell (oat cell) carcinoma
- Carcinoma (cancer) of the superior sulcus (including Pancoast tumors) with multimodal antineoplastic therapy. (This alone will qualify you for disability for 18 months from the date of your diagnosis; after that point, any residual effects will be evaluated separately to determine if your disability is ongoing.)
In addition, if you meet part A of this listing, you could qualify for a “Compassionate Allowance.” This will allow your claim to be processed quickly, sometimes resulting in your benefits being approved within a matter of days.
If your lung cancer doesn’t meet the criteria in the listing, you could still qualify for benefits by showing that, due to the effects of your cancer, you’re unable to any work-related duties on a full-time basis. The SSA will also consider your age, level of education, prior work experience, and any other impairments that you might have when making this determination.