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Lung Cancer Screening: A New Tool to Fight the #1 Cancer

October 23, 2015
lung ct scan

Earlier Detection, Higher Cure Rates

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women in the US and the world, with 160,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. It kills more Americans than breast, colorectal, prostate, and pancreas cancers combined. Despite those telling statistics, until recently there have been no recommendations for screening.

“If lung cancer can be detected as early as Stage I, there is a good chance of a cure with treatment,” says Dr. Gary Hochheiser, chief of thoracic surgery at Baystate Medical Center. Lung cancer screening was scientifically proven in 2010 by one of the largest randomized controlled trials in the history of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

NCI’s National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) confirmed that screening can reduce overall death from lung cancer – which is currently the number one cancer killer in the U.S. by at least 20%. The NLST showed that low-dose CT screening can save the lives of people at high risk for lung cancer by finding cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Without low-dose CT screening, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms, when the cancer is much harder to treat.

For that reason, experts at Baystate Medical Center developed a comprehensive Lung Cancer Screening Program to guide patients through the process and help ensure they get the care they need, when they need it.

Screening Criteria

Only patients who meet the screening criteria are eligible for the screening, and a referral from a health care professional is required.

  • Group 1: People ages 55-77 who have smoked at least an average of one pack a day for 30 years. This includes people who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • Group 2: People ages 50-77 who currently or in the past have smoked at least an average of one pack a day for 20 years. They must also have at least one other risk factor for lung cancer, not including exposure to secondhand smoke. Other risk factors include:
  • cancer in the past
  • emphysema
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • a family history of lung cancer
  • exposure to certain substances (including asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel fumes, nickel, radon, silica and uranium)  

Patients must be asymptomatic, with no known cancer, and no diagnosis of lung cancer in the past five years. Those who have symptoms of a lung condition at the time of screening, such as a new cough or shortness of breath, are not eligible.  

Earlier this year, Medicare announced it will cover lung cancer screening for people at the highest risk – potentially saving tens of thousands of lives. The team at Baystate’s Lung Cancer Screening Program works with patients to determine their eligibility and insurance coverage. Insurance coverage varies by plan, and may cover all or part of the cost of screening.  

Simple Test

Low dose CT lung screening is one of the easiest screening exams to have. The exam takes less than 10 seconds. No medications are given, and no needles are used. Patients can eat before and after the exam. They do not even need to get changed as long as the clothing on their chest does not contain metal. They must only be able to hold their breath for at least six seconds during the scan.  

Along with their results, patients receive customized recommendations for follow up and future screening.  

Center of Excellence

In March, Baystate Medical Center was named a Lung Cancer Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance, a designation that means it has agreed to follow specific guidelines and best practices to ensure the highest quality of screening and follow-up care. Baystate is currently one of only 250 such centers in the U.S., and the only one in western Massachusetts.  

Take the Next Step

To find out if you qualify for lung cancer screening, talk to your doctor or call the Baystate Lung Cancer Screening Program at 1-855-794-LUNG (5864).  A physician referral is required.