PINEHURST – As the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States, lung cancer claims more than 160,000 lives annually.
Even though most of these deaths are related to the effects of cigarette smoking, there had not been until recently a proven method for early lung cancer detection. As a result, most lung cancers were being diagnosed in later stages when they are more difficult to treat.
Today, patients with a history of cigarette smoking can benefit from reliable screening for early lung cancer detection in the form of the low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans now being offered in the Outpatient Imaging Department at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.
“We are very excited to finally have a screening test for a disease that takes the lives of so many people,” says Michael Pritchett, D.O., a board certified pulmonologist at Moore Regional and Pinehurst Medical Clinic. “The current data from studies shows that we can avoid some lung cancer deaths through screening. This could potentially cure 20,000 deaths per year if these screenings are widely implemented. However, that’s still only 13 percent of the 160,000 people who die yearly from lung cancer.”
A lung CT screening works basically the same way as a CT screening for any other body part. The patient lies beneath the scanner, which captures high-resolution images of the lungs. The image is then read by a board certified radiologist, and the results are shared with the patient in a written report.
A scan, which is done without the use of dyes or contrasts, is painless and takes only a few minutes. Patients get only slightly more radiation than they would get from a traditional X-ray.
An influential group of government advisers recently endorsed the use of CT lung cancer screenings for certain current and former smokers. To be considered for a screening, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, people should:
- Be 55 through 74 years of age
- Have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or the equivalent, such as two packs a day for 15 years
People who should not be screened include:
- Those younger than 55 or older then 74
- Those who smoked less or less often than those previously described
- Those who quit smoking 15 or more years ago
- Those too sick or frail to tolerate lung cancer treatment
- Those who have had a chest CT sometime in the previous 18 months
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recommends that the best way to evaluate the scans is through a multidisciplinary approach, such as the one offered by FirstHealth’s Chest Center of the Carolinas, which is located in Reid Heart Center.
According to Dr. Pritchett, who serves as Chest Center medical director, 75 percent of lung cancers are found at an advanced stage (III or IV) when the prognosis is not good. “When found early, the cure rate can be as high as 92 percent,” he says.
A physician referral is not required for a lung cancer screening, but the patient must have an established relationship with a primary care provider who can receive the test results. Insurance plans do not currently cover the $180 screening cost, which is payable at the time of the exam.
For more information on the lung cancer screening program currently being offered at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, call (910) 715-2258.