By Makenzie O'Keefe

LONE TREE, Colo. (CBS4) – Lung cancer is the leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths, and this month health experts are reminding people about the importance of screening for the disease. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

“Even with all of the advancements we have made in oncology, our best bet in curing someone is early diagnosis,” explained Dr. Surit Sharma, a pulmonologist with Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree. “And that’s why I would like to promote lung cancer screening.”

Dr. Sharma says high-risk patients include individuals who have smoked a pack of cigarettes per day per year for 20 years, are currently smoking or have quit within the last 15 years.

“We’ve discovered that for high-risk patients if you screen them with CAT scans, we are able to pick up these cancers early,” he explained. “And there is a clear benefit of 16% to 20% mortality.”

Dr. Sharma says the biggest risk factor of developing lung cancer is smoking. However, there are other factors such as age, family history and environmental concerns such as asbestos exposure. There have also been significant advancements in recent year on how lung cancer is detected, and treated.

“If we find a small nodule our technology has improved to the point where we can biopsy that nodule at an earlier stage,” Dr. Sharma said. “And that has allowed us to intervene sooner rather than later.”

Lung cancer screenings are recommended for people age 50 to 80 years old.

“If you have not heard of lung cancer screenings and you are in a high-risk category, please reach out to your physician,” Dr. Sharma explained. “We feel it is really important to catch these cancers early and there is a good chance of cure if we do catch them early.”

Makenzie O'Keefe