Physician calls low-dose CT screening ‘the tool we have needed to reverse the odds of beating lung cancer and turn them more in our favor.’
ALTOONA – November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and UPMC Altoona is introducing a new method for detecting lung cancer at its earliest, most curable stages.
UPMC Altoona’s Radiology Department has begun offering low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) screening for patients who are at high risk of developing lung cancer due to their medical history, including smoking and a family history of lung cancer. The screening is painless and takes about two minutes.
“Lung cancer is likely without symptoms until the disease is well advanced in the lungs and has often spread beyond the chest wall into surrounding organs, where it causes symptoms” according to pulmonologist Mehrdad Ghaffari, M.D., medical director of UPMC Altoona’s Pulmonary Services. “This makes an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer most desirable.
“If cancer is detected when it is limited to one pulmonary nodule, that cancerous nodule can be effectively treated with appropriate interventions – whatever is the best treatment for the particular cancer and that patient.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is diagnosed in 200,000 men and women annually.
The National Lung Screening Trial compared two ways of detecting lung cancer: low-dose helical CT and standard chest x-ray. Both have been used in the past to find lung cancer at earlier stages.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that participants who received low-dose helical CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays.
Based on the available evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended annual low-dose CT screening for smokers and former smokers who:
- Are age 55 to 74
- Continue to smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
- A smoking history of 30 “pack years” (number of packs a day times the number of years of smoking)
- Exposure to radon
- Exposure to cancer-causing agents, such as silica, cadmium, asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes, or nickel
- Having had lung cancer before or radiation to the chest
- A family history of lung cancer
- COPD or emphysema
Patients and doctors need to consider the radiation risk of low-dose CT screening.
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health:
“Previous studies show that there can be an increased lifetime risk of cancer due to ionizing radiation exposure. It is important to recognize that the benefit of potentially finding a treatable cancer in current or former heavy smokers, ages 55 to 74, using helical CT appear to outweigh the radiation exposure risks of the procedure.”
“Once the patient has symptoms of lung disease,” said Dr. Ghaffari, “it is likely the cancer has spread and the survival rate is drastically lowered compared to a patient’s survival rate when cancer is detected early and limited to a single nodule.”
Ghaffari called low-dose CT screening “the tool we have needed to reverse the odds of beating lung cancer and turn them more in our favor.”
Ghaffari encourages high-risk individuals to discuss low-dose CT screening with their family physician.