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Detecting Lung Cancer with Screenings

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014
Doylestown Hospital is making low-dose CT scans available for those who fit the criteria for screening, aimed at detecting cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection means a better chance for a cure.

The biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States. Lung cancer causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers (colon, breast and pancreatic) combined. Estimates indicate that active smoking is responsible for about 90% of lung cancer cases.

The link between lung cancer and smoking is widely known, says James McClurken, MD. He is helping to lead the charge along with pulmonary specialist Pinak Acharya, MD at Doylestown Hospital to get heavy smokers screened in order to detect cancer before it is too late.

Screening saves lives

The National Lung Screening Trial, one of the largest and most expensive trials (funded by the National Institutes of Health) ever conducted in the U.S., found that low-dose CT scans reduced cancer deaths by 20%.

"The perception that lung cancer is not curable is wrong," says Dr. McClurken. There is a good cure rate with early detection."

That rate can be over 60-65% for early, small, confined tumors with favorable features on pathology analysis.

However, based on current evidence, lung cancer screening is not for everyone. It is important to understand that the survival benefit is seen in patients who are considered high risk only. Before deciding whether lung cancer screening is appropriate, patients should discuss the potential risks and benefits of lung cancer screening with their primary physician and/or pulmonologist.

Screening recommendations

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued guidelines recommending low-dose CT scans for the following individuals:
  • Current or former smoker (quit within the last 15 years)
  • AND aged 55-74 years
  • AND with a smoking history of at least 30 pack years (one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
A low-dose CT (computed tomography) scan shows a picture inside the lungs using less radiation than a traditional chest CT scan.

If you meet the criteria and are interested in getting the scan, Dr. McClurken suggests contacting your primary doctor or a pulmonologist. Patients can get a low-dose CT scan of the chest at Doylestown Hospital or the Health & Wellness Center in Warrington.

Watch Dr. James McClurken, cardiothoracic surgeon at Doylestown Hospital, discuss lung cancer treatment at Doylestown Hospital.

Lung cancer screening and insurance

More than two-thirds of lung cancer cases occur in the Medicare population (65+).[1] Despite the guidelines recommending screening, Medicare has not yet started to pay for lung cancer screening.

Under the Affordable Care Act, private insurers – but not Medicare – are required to pay for screening for people at high risk for lung cancer who meet the criteria. Medicare is said to be mulling the issue over.

Recognizing the importance of early detection, Doylestown Hospital has begun offering low-dose CT scans of the chest for a self-pay cost of $200. Backed by solid research, lung cancer screening can help save lives in our community.

A word about screening

A low-dose CT scan of the chest can detect nodules in the lungs with the least amount of radiation exposure. Some findings may warrant additional evaluation. Not all nodules that are found are cancerous, notes Dr. McClurken.

Since lung cancer symptoms usually appear only when the cancer is advanced, screening can represent an important opportunity for those at high risk for the disease.

"The greatest chance for a cure is when cancer is found in its earliest stages before symptoms appear," says Dr. McClurken. "It’s better knowing than not knowing until it’s too late."

Early success at Doylestown Hospital

Dr. McClurken says there has already been a small number of patients at Doylestown Hospital whose lung cancer was detected at the earliest stages by the low-dose CT screening. "We’ve already seen success here with early detection. We’ve seen it work."

These patients were treated with surgery. Treatment depends on the cell type of the cancer. Doylestown Hospital experts do genetic testing of the tumor to individualize care for each patient.

A group of physicians discusses each case and considers the best options for each patient, including clinical trials. A dedicated nurse navigator with The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital educates and assists patients faced with important decisions.

"We offer customized cancer care for each patient," says Dr. McClurken. "The ultimate goal is to offer patient-centric care close to home."

To ensure patients receive the most comprehensive care available, The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital's Lung Cancer Program brings together top doctors from several disciplines to collaborate on personalized treatment plans for patients. This multidisciplinary approach includes experts from medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgery, pulmonary medicine and other specialties who meet regularly to collaborate on personalized treatment plans for each lung cancer patient.

Learn more about the lung cancer screening and treatment available at the Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital's Lung Cancer Program or contact our Lung Cancer Nurse Navigator at 267-884-5588.

[1] Douglas E. Wood and Ella A. Kazerooni, New York Times, June 17, 2014.

About Doylestown Health's Cancer Institute

Doylestown Health's Cancer Institute offers patients the quality care they expect from a leader in cancer diagnosis and treatment — close to home. Accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, and a member of Jefferson's Sidney Kimmel Cancer Network, our board-certified physicians and oncology-certified practitioners provide comprehensive, coordinated care and services for the full range of cancer diagnoses including breast, lung, urologic, gastrointestinal and other cancers.

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