Thursday, July 04, 2002


Doctor: Clooney's death a reminder

Lung cancer kills about 67,000 women a year; test may detect it sooner

By Stephenie Steitzer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The entertainment icon who fell victim to America's leading cancer killer Saturday joined the ranks of an estimated 154,900 men and women who are expected to die of lung cancer this year.

        Rosemary Clooney, 74, had been hospitalized earlier this month after suffering a recurrence of lung cancer, which was discovered during a regular physical exam in January.

        Ms. Clooney, a Maysville, Ky., native, had a 15 percent chance of surviving the next five years when she had the upper lobe of her left lung removed seven months ago, according to the American Cancer Society.

        “That's not as good as we can do for breast cancer,” said Dr. John Howington, director of University of Cincinnati's thoracic surgery division.

        Dr. Howington said Ms. Clooney's death should serve as a wake-up call for other women who are regular smokers.

        It is widely thought that breast cancer, which causes about 39,600 deaths in U.S. women each year, is the No.1 cancer killer in women. But lung cancer kills about 67,000 women each year.

        While more new breast cancer cases appear each year, women have an 86 percent chance of surviving the next five years because of early detection and treatment methods, Dr. Howington says. California, where Ms. Clooney lived, has the highest number of lung cancer cases in the country — 14,000. Kentucky, where Ms. Clooney was born and raised, is ranked No. 17, with 3,400. Ohio is ranked No. 6, with 7,900 new cases each year.

        Ms. Clooney had smoked for 49 years, but quit in the mid-1990s. According to the American Lung Association of Kentucky, 87 percent of all lung cancer is directly attributable to smoking.

        “The easiest way to deal with it is to prevent it in the first place,” spokeswoman Menisa Marshall said.

        While experts believe quitting reduces cancer risk, former smokers face higher odds of developing the cancer than lifetime non-smokers. In fact, Dr. Howington says, 50 percent of lung cancers develop in former smokers.

        Ms. Clooney was an exception, however, with how fast she succumbed to the disease.

        “It's uncommon to have surgery in January and die six months later,” Dr. Howington said. “That's outside the norm.”

        Researchers at UC are studying a “cutting edge” way to test for lung cancer using a low-dose spiral CT, which is similar to an X-ray, but uses more advanced equipment. Historically, screening methods such as chest X-rays and sputum studies — tests for abnormal cells in a person's phlegm — have been unable to reduce the mortality rate.

        Dr. Howington said he hopes the CT can eventually be used to detect cancer in women over 50, with a 20-pack year history — which is the number of packs a person smokes per day times the number of years they have smoked. Ms. Clooney would have fallen into that category even if she smoked less than a pack a day.


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