While Michigan is building a strong national reputation as the comeback state, it also is a leader in a more regrettable area — lung cancer incidence rates.

More than 7,800 Michiganders are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and the state’s incidence rate of 67.5 cases per 100,000 is five points higher than the national average of 62.4. But West Michigan is doing its part to lead the fight against the deadly disease.

Oncologist Yuanbin Chen, who practices at the Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, said smoking remains the No. 1 cause for lung cancer, and that is especially true in West Michigan.

“The biology of lung cancer we’ve seen in West Michigan is a little bit different from many other areas; it’s the biology associated with heavy smoking,” Chen said. “The subtype of lung cancer we’ve encountered here is more frequently related to smoking.”

Chen’s recommendation for lifelong smokers who can’t kick the habit is to receive a low-dose CT scan once a year to screen for early signs of lung cancer. He said if the disease is not caught early, it could turn into Stage 4, which is untreatable.

A standard X-ray is not strong enough to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages, and low-dose CT screening is the most effective deterrent, Chen said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of patients and even some primary care physicians, especially in northern and West Michigan, don’t understand that the screening test is available,” he said.

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