Monday, May 02, 2011


Lung cancer rates high in eastern Connecticut

The latest news on cancer rates in Connecticut isn’t good. According to the Centers for Disease Control our state ranks 6th for overall cancer incidence among all 50 states.

In eastern Connecticut, which includes New London and Windham counties, the news doesn’t get much better. We have the highest lung cancer rates in the state: Windham County is first with 80 cases per 100,000 people and New London County is second at 77.8 cases per 100,000 people.

While breast cancer tends to get all the headlines, lung cancer is actually more deadly – it accounts for more cancer deaths than the next four cancer types combined (colon, breast, prostate and pancreas). It is estimated that lung cancer kills nearly 160,000 people a year, and the overall five-year survival rate is only 15%.

Risk factors include:

Tobacco. Smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years or more markedly increases your risk for lung cancer. Quitting smoking and being a non smoker decreases your risk.
Occupational exposures. These included smelting of metals, mining, milling, shipyards and manufacturing of plastics.
Genetic factors. Having a first degree relative with lung cancer increases your risk, regardless of tobacco use.
Gender. Female smokers are at a proportionally higher risk than male smokers.
Chronic lung disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is also a risk factor for lung cancer.

So the question remains, why are lung cancer rates so high in our region? One reason might be that we have some of the highest rates of smoking statewide. Also, there previously was a large number of milling, textile, and manufacturing industries in eastern Connecticut, which may have increased exposure to carcinogens.

Treatment for lung cancer bridges many specialties, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. One or a combination of these modalities can be used.

At Backus Hospital, we offer patients access to the latest treatment options and some clinical trials. This includes specialized surgical treatment, specifically minimally invasive thoracic surgery. Studies show this technique results in less post-operative pain, decreased hospital length of stay and a faster return to work.

Prevention is obviously the best medicine. But if you or a loved one does have lung cancer, it is comforting to know our region has access to excellent oncologists at Eastern Connecticut Hematology & Oncology, oncology-certified nurses at the Backus Cancer Center, a radiation therapy department that is affiliated with Yale-New Haven Hospital, excellent pulmonologists, and cutting-edge surgery.

Juan Escalon, MD, is a board-certified thoracic surgeon with Backus Physician Services. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Escalon or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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