Lung cancer awareness; early screenings encouraged

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Additionally, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

When Raghuram Guda was hiking at Zion National Park, he thought he had COVID-19. It was 2021 and his symptoms included a cough and shortness of breath. But when he tested negative, he knew he needed to test for something else.

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"I felt a sharp pain in my left chest," Guda said. "They found a mass in the left side of my chest."

Guda was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a shock to him, as he is in his early 30s and never smoked.

"There’s a taboo about cancer," he said. "There’s a fear."

He hopes to inspire others to get a scan. 

"The cost of not getting screened is higher than the cost of getting it," Guda said.

His oncologist, Dr. Jonathan Thompson with Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), said lung cancer is curable, especially if it’s caught early. He recommends that people with tobacco exposure should get a scan annually.

"We have better ways of detecting it early," Thompson said. "We have better ways of curing it with new surgery and radiation techniques."

Thompson saw 180 new patients in 2023. He's noticed an increase in younger patients.

The pandemic has played a role in diagnosing people as well.

"A few people were diagnosed during COVID kind of incidentally with lung cancer, when it was initially thought that COVID was driving the cough or shortness of breath," Thompson said.

So as the holidays bring families together, Guda said he is thankful for his support system. He’s hoping to encourage others who might have similar symptoms to not be afraid. 

"Go get a screening done," Guda said.

Froedtert and the MCW estimated 4,500 people in Wisconsin were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2022.