(MINOT, ND) – There has been a major gap in early cancer detection. Although lung cancer has long been the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., no widely accepted screening tool has been available to detect it at an early enough stage to make treatment more successful. Now that problem has been addressed.
A low-dose version of the familiar CT scan has been proven safe and effective in catching tumors in patients at the highest risk for developing lung cancer. Scott Lewis, MD, Medical Director of Trinity Health’s Radiology Department, says based on those studies Trinity has taken the initiative to launch a low-dose CT screening program for past and current smokers who meet certain criteria.
‘This is an important program because to this point in time, medicine has not had a safe screening tool to detect lung cancer in these high-risk patients,’ Dr. Lewis said. ‘Low-dose CT is safe, and it will help identify patients with early stage, treatable lung cancer and in the long run help reduce the number of deaths.’
Heidi Bender, FNP-C, a pulmonary nurse practitioner, says prior to low-dose CT, ‘there was not a screening tool for lung cancer,’ she said. Providers like Heidi and pulmonary/critical care specialist Jeffrey Verhey, MD, say the real breakthrough came with the National Lung Screening Trial, which determined that low-dose CT screening could significantly reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer in heavy smokers. ‘The study found a mortality reduction of 20 percent in lung cancer deaths,’ Dr. Verhey said. ‘That was the first study to show we could save lives with lung cancer screening, and it was then that Trinity Health decided to launch its own screening program.’
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer undergo an annual low-dose CT screening exam.
Who is at high risk? An individual’s primary care provider can help make this determination, but the basic criteria are as follows:
- Must be a current or former smoker.
- Age 55 ñ 77 years.
- If a former cigarette smoker, must have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
- Must have smoked at least 30 pack years, which is the number of years smoked multiplied by the number of packs per day.
- Have no current signs or symptoms of lung cancer such as cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, or pain in the chest.
Dr. Lewis says the low-dose screening is true to its name; the radiation dose for a low-dose CT scan of the chest is about 1.5 milliSieverts compared to 2 to 8 milliSieverts for a standard chest CT. There’s also the added benefit that the screening is able to detect other potentially life-threatening abnormalities such as an aortic aneurysm. ‘The screening is quick and simple,’ he added. ‘You get on the table and take a deep breath. It takes only 15 seconds to do the exam.’
Patients interested in being screened should talk to their primary care provider or call Trinity’s Pulmonary Clinic at 701-857-5741. Patients will need to be seen by a provider for a face-to-face clinic visit to discuss qualifications and the risks and benefits of low-dose CT. A provider’s order is needed to receive a low-dose CT exam. For information about Trinity’s lung cancer screening program, log on to www.trinityhealth.org/lowdose.