Early Detection is Key
It has now been 50 years since the surgeon general’s report on tobacco, describing the causal role between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Surprisingly, many people — smokers and non-smokers alike — do not know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. More surprisingly, many people do not realize lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer related death in the United States in women ‒ more than breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined.
It is estimated that in 2015, more than 221,200 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed with an estimated 158,040 deaths. The high death rate associated with lung cancer can in part be attributed to the fact that it is often found after it has spread. Lung cancer can be caused by any number of factors: smoking (including second-hand smoke), genetics, radon exposure, occupational hazards, pre-existing lung disease and air pollution.
Cancer screening can save lives by identifying lung cancer at early stages when treatments work best. The single best way to prevent lung cancer deaths, in addition to the myriad of other health benefits, is smoking cessation.
A large multi-center study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) validated lung cancer screenings for high risk individuals with use of annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). In this study, lung cancer screening decreased the risk of lung cancer death by 20%.
LDCT is a non-invasive test that is able to produce three-dimensional images of the lungs, allowing for detection of lung abnormalities. LDCT scans allow expert clinicians to examine the shape and size of suspected lung nodules and determine their likelihood of being cancerous. The dose of radiation is significantly lower than standard doses of a CT scan.
Given the encouraging findings of recent lung cancer screening studies, specialty physician and medical organizations (American College of Chest Physicians, American Society of Clinical Oncology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the US Preventative Task Force) are now recommending lung cancer screening for high risk individuals.
Criteria for screenings of high‑risk individuals include:
• Current or former smokers 55 or older
• A smoking history of at least 30 pack‑years (meaning one pack a day for 30 years; 2 packs a day for 15 years; etc.)
• If a former smoker, stopped within the last 15 years
• No current or past treatments for lung cancer
Patients will receive a letter with the results of their screening exam. If the scan shows one or more nodules, they will be referred for further testing and consultation. A nurse navigator is available to assist in coordinating care between patients and their doctors. Medicare and most insurance plans cover lung cancer screening for patients who meet the criteria.
St. Luke’s Lung Cancer Screening Program has been named a Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance, the leading organization dedicated to saving lives and advancing research by empowering those living with and at risk for lung cancer. For more information about the lung cancer screening program at St. Luke’s Hospital, call program Nurse Navigator Brian Quigley, RN, BSN, at 314.205.6886.