By Amy Copeland, MPH, Director of Medical Outreach at Lung Cancer Alliance
Public Health Week (April 2-9) got us thinking….What exactly is public health and how does it relate to lung cancer? We sat down with Amy Copeland, Lung Cancer Alliance’s (LCA) Director of Medical Outreach, who received her Masters of Public Health from George Washington University and has spent just shy of 20 years in the field, to ask these important questions, as well as learn a little about her journey.
What exactly is public health?
Public health is ultimately keeping the public healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as “the science of protecting the safety and improving the health of communities through education, policy making and research for disease and injury prevention*.” It’s about addressing the health of a community or group of people, with the goal of preventing the problem rather than treating it once it has become a problem.
How did you get interested in the field?
I first learned about public health when doing volunteer work in rural Guatemala during my mid-twenties. While the volunteer health workers in the community were trained to treat people when they got sick, their primary job was to keep the community members from getting sick in the first place. They did this by educating them about clean water and sanitation, as well as vaccinations and use of mosquito nets to prevent illnesses, like malaria.
What brought you to LCA?
I finished my Master’s degree in Public Health in 2005. After a couple years working on projects outside of the US, I decided to focus my efforts on my home turf and was lucky enough to find a position at LCA. Like many others, I have my own lung cancer story to tell: my mom was diagnosed in 1998. After a few years working with our support programs and answering the HelpLine, I had the opportunity to move to a part of the organization that truly connects to public health: early detection.
Where does lung cancer fit into public health?
Lung cancer is often found at a late stage because symptoms go undetected until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. We now know that early detection through screening can help people live longer and live better, which is exactly the goal of public health. Given how many people are impacted by lung cancer, early detection is a huge public health opportunity!
So, early detection is the public health piece of lung cancer, but how do you apply this in the community?
Screening for lung cancer with a low dose CT (LDCT) scan is currently the only proven method for detecting lung cancer at an early and treatable stage. Our network of over 500 Screening Centers of Excellence across the country have committed to carry out LDCT screening safely and appropriately. Our goal at Lung Cancer Alliance is to make sure that those at risk* for the disease are informed about their risk, have access to high quality screening programs and receive follow up care after their screening.
How can our community take a roll in public health efforts?
Our community can do their part by finding out if they or a loved one might be at risk for lung cancer and if so, talk to their doctor about lung cancer early detection. By doing this, not only are they helping themselves, but also an entire community.
*Currently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends lung cancer screening for a specific high-risk population, which fit the criteria below. There is ongoing research to determine who else may have an elevated risk of developing lung cancer. If you do not meet the high risk criteria but are concerned you are at risk for lung cancer, talk with your doctor about whether screening is right for you.
High Risk Criteria:
- You are between the ages of 55-80.
- You have a 30 pack-year smoking history.
- (Calculated as # of packs smoked per day multiplied by # of years smoking. For example: 1 pack per day X 20 years = 20 pack years)
- You are a current smoker or quit within the past 15 years.