Diamond's Lung Cancer Battle & Symptoms of the Disease
- Actor Dustin Diamond died on February 1, 2021, after a three-week battle with lung cancer.
- Diamond, a stand-up comic and actor, was best known for his work on Saved by the Bell, and he was diagnosed with stage 4 small cell lung cancer in January 2021.
- Symptoms of lung cancer may include a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, chest pain, hoarseness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath.
Lung cancer symptoms, experts tell us, often present after the cancer has spread to others parts of the body. If you’re a current or former smoker, consider getting tested for lung cancer, as you’re at an elevated risk of this disease.
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For treatment, Dustin had chemotherapy, his representatives confirmed. After his passing, his Saved by the Bell co-stars shared their love for Dustin on social media, with many praising his work as well as his character.
Lung cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy. Some treatment paths are universal and will be used in both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Treatment options for lung cancer will depend on the stage and clinical characteristics of the cancer.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 235,760 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in 2021. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Joseph Friedberg, the Head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, explains how and why lung cancer often doesn’t show up until later. He says, “Lung cancer kills more patients than prostate, colon, breast, and pancreas combined. And the reason is….it causes no issues until it has spread somewhere.”
“So if it spreads to the bones, it may cause pain,” he says. “If it spreads to the brain, it may cause something not subtle, like a seizure. So, in the absence of all those things, we now have something that we saw in an X-ray.”
CT Screening Saves Lives
A low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan uses a small amount of radiation to create highly detailed pictures of your lungs. It can reveal cancer long before your first symptom appears.
A study published in the February 2020 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that former and current longtime smokers ages 50 to 74 who had low-dose CT scans were less likely to die from lung cancer (24% lower risk in men and 33% lower risk in women) than those who didn’t have this test.
“[The CT scans] were able to pick [up the cancer] at an earlier stage and potentially cure them at a higher rate than not doing screening,” said Dr. Patrick Forde, a thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
After a lung cancer diagnosis, doctors will typically order a brain MRI and a PET/CT scan to see if the cancer has spread to other organs.
Should You Get a CT Scan?
That depends on your age and your smoking history. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) — an independent expert panel that makes evidence-based recommendations about screenings and other preventive services — recommends yearly low-dose CT scans for people who:
- Are between 55 and 80 years old
- Have a history of heavy smoking, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years
Heavy smoking means that you’ve smoked 30 pack years or more. That’s the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff