November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and it's a great reminder of how important it is to catch lung cancer early, especially those who are most at risk through long time cigarette usage or those exposed to second hand smoking. According to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, 433 people in the United States die each day from lung cancer and kills two times as many woman as breast cancer. In Georgia, around 17.5 percent of the population smokes, which is higher than the national average. This makes lung cancer screening an important resource for the residents of Middle Georgia!
Lung cancer screenings are typically administered through low-dose CT scans, which are important for those with a high risk of developing lung cancer. The scans detect cancer in earlier stages before most symptoms occur.
You may be a good candidate for a lung screening if you:
- Are between the ages of 55 and 77
- Are still smoking or have quit in the last 15 years
- Have smoked at least 30 pack years (multiply the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years smoked)
When lung cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread to other organs, it is much easier to remove and treat, since it is at a less-aggressive stage and can be treated through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. At later stages, it is more difficult to locate and completely remove all lung cancer cells throughout the body, leading to a lower cure rate as the disease worsens.
According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, current screening guidelines catch about half of all lung cancer cases at an early stage. Through testing of lung cancer screenings, a low-dose CT scan is the only reliable screening method, and was the clear winner when tested over X-rays and other dosages of CT scans.
Effective in 2015, the Affordable Care Act mandates that preventive care, such as lung cancer screenings, is paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers at no cost (no co-pays, no co-insurance) to the patient.
The benefits of a lung cancer screening are that you are more likely to have nodules detected so that you can start the treatment process earlier than if you were to wait for symptoms to occur. Symptoms of lung cancer include coughing up blood, pain, shortness of breath and weight loss. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms arise, the cancer is already at an advanced state.
Coliseum Medical Centers periodically offers CT Lung Screenings at a reduced rate for non-insured because the recognize the huge impact smoking has on our local residents. Dr. Norman "Chip" Hetzler, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Coliseum Heart, Lung and Vascular, said, "While patients can schedule this procedure throughout the year at Coliseum, we offer a special screening day twice a year where the out of pocket fees are reduced. Since we've started these special lung screening days, we've caught lung cancer that wouldn't have been seen otherwise. Simply put - this screening saves lives, especially in middle Georgia where smoking is so prevalent."
The risks of a lung cancer screening are quite low, as the test administered is low-dose, meaning the amount of radiation you are exposed to is very low. Another risk is receiving a false positive, which is where an abnormality shows up on your low-dose CT scan that looks like cancer and then through further testing is found to be not cancerous. In fact, about 95 percent of all positive screening results do not lead to a cancer diagnosis.
If you think you might be a good candidate for a lung cancer screening, talk to your primary care physician about whether this process is right for you, as well as the benefits and risks of a low-dose CT scan.