CLEVELAND — November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month. A new report from the American Lung Cancer Association ranks Ohio among the top states for treatment, however, our state is falling behind when it comes to new cases rates, diagnosis and prevention.
"More people die from lung cancer every year than any other form of cancer, but people really don't talk about lung cancer the way that they talk about other forms of cancer," said Ken Fletcher.
Fletcher serves as the advocacy director at the American Lung Association. He said like many cancers, when caught early, it's far more treatable.
"We need to do a better job of making sure that we get out there early and get people identified quickly so that they can receive those treatments and have a much higher success rate," she said.
According to the association's fourth annual State of Lung Cancer report, Ohio ranked 42nd in the nation for having a higher than average number of new lung cancer cases. The report concluded that despite the early diagnosis rate, Ohio still has a lot of work to do to make sure that more of those at high risk for lung cancer are screened.
"It really does, I think, boils down to a lot of the health care provider making sure they're asking the questions and also the patient making sure that they're telling their health care provider if they have things that make them a higher risk for lung cancer," Fletcher said.
The annual report also revealed the Black community is least likely to receive surgical treatment.
That's one of the reasons Cleveland resident and lung cancer survivor Sharonne Lopez shared her story.
"In the very beginning I was in denial," she said. "I didn't believe that I really had it, and then I had the old myths."
Lopez is a U.S. Army veteran and former teacher. She worked in a factory and was a smoker for a period of time. Then in 2018, she started getting nosebleeds that lasted longer, so Lopez went to the emergency room.
"When they did the x-ray, they said it looked like some spots on my lungs that weren't there 10 years ago," Lopez said. "I was diagnosed with third stage non-small cell lung cancer."
Lopez said she was reluctant to get treatment, but her family and friends convinced her to seek help at the Cleveland Clinic. And now it's her mission to convince others to take the disease seriously, too — especially youth who are smoking or vaping.
"I try to do what I can to encourage people not to smoke, not to vape and to find other avenues of taking more care of their health," she said. "Because you can't buy good health. No matter how much money you got, you can't buy it."