Thanks to continuing research, smokers or former smokers who are at high risk for lung cancer now have a screening test that can help spot cancer earlier, increasing survival. McLeod Thoracic Surgeon C. Wayne Holley, MD, who performs lung cancer surgeries, explains the screening:
Here’s a summary of Dr. Holly’s explanation:
Lung cancer screening is the practice of identifying patients, who are at high risk for lung cancer but don’t show any symptoms, and using a low-dose CT scan to screen them for lung cancer.
It is the same concept as screening for breast cancer with annual mammograms and screening for colon cancer with colonoscopy every 10 years for the general population. But we don’t need to screen 100 percent of the patients for lung cancer.
All the studies have shown that we only need to screen the highest risk patients. Those are the patients aged 55-74, who are either current smokers or were “30 pack year” smokers (1 pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years) and have quit less than 15 years ago, who also have another additional risk factor, such as a diagnosis of COPD. Those are the patients with the highest risk of having undetected lung cancer.
A study that was released by the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) several years ago and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated the following among 80,000 participants in the study: the risk of lung cancer is reduced by screening those patients with a low-dose CT scan rather than screening that population with a chest X-ray.
A low-dose CT scan is the very same CT scan that is offered in many medical centers and outpatient imaging centers. In this case, the patient has less radiation exposure than with a regular CT scan and often less than just a single chest X-ray. The new guidelines recommend high-risk individuals have that screening CT scan once a year.
So, take the example of100 patients using the old method of X-ray screening or no screening at all. When lung cancer symptoms appear, an average of 75 percent of them would have Stage 3 or 4 lung cancer, an incurable disease. Now with CT screenings in those same patients, we are finding early-stage lung cancer — which is curable with radiation or surgery or both — up to 60 percent to 75 percent of the time.
And the evidence is so overwhelming that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have assigned a code and reimbursement for CT screening.
If you don’t have Medicare, private insurance or can’t afford the deductible (and meet certain financial criteria), scholarships are available from the McLeod Foundation’s McLeod Men and McLeod Angels’ groups to assist in paying for the screening.
A personal physician can refer you to the program. Or contact the McLeod Lung Nurse Navigator at 843-777-5640, who can help determine if you qualify for a scholarship from the McLeod Men or McLeod Angels.