Jul 31, 2019 Detecting Lung Cancer Early

If you're a current or former smoker, screening could save your life. 

senior couple jogging togetherLung cancer is the leading cancer killer in men and women, yet only 16 percent of cases are found at an early stage, according to the American Lung
Association. The chances of being diagnosed early, however, can improve with screening. The J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center at Community Medical Center (CMC) offers low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan screening, which can detect cancer at its earliest stages—when treatment may be most effective.

“For those who are at high risk for lung cancer, it’s important to have this test because it can save lives,” says Philip Murillo, MD, a radiologist at CMC. The National Lung Screening Trial, which CMC’s partner, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, participated in, found that there were 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths among people who received CT scan screening compared to those who had X-rays.

At CMC, screening is given to people between the ages of 55 and 77 who have a history of heavy smoking (a pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years). Current smokers or those who quit less than 15 years ago are eligible. The process is simple: A primary care physician prescribes the test, and the patient schedules it. The scan takes only three to five minutes. The amount of radiation received through a low dose CT scan is equivalent to six months of exposure to background radiation—the kind you’d receive from exposure to naturally occurring radiation in the environment.

A simple process

Patients usually receive the results within one or two days, says Dr. Murillo. If nothing suspicious is found, they return for another scan in one year. If a nodule (small amount of tissue) is found, a patient often returns for a follow-up scan in six months. Lung nodules can develop as a result of allergies, infection or pollution, so they’re not necessarily cause for concern, says Dr. Murillo.

If a large nodule is discovered or if it has suspicious features (such as a star shape instead of a round shape), a biopsy may be taken or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan may be ordered. Some people are hesitant to get screened because they feel they’re being judged, says Jane Krong, RN, BSN, OCN, clinical lung navigator. “There’s no judgment,” she says.

“This is an important thing to do.” Lung cancer screening is endorsed by many organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Cancer Society. It’s so widely accepted that Medicare now covers the test, as do some private insurance companies. “Reducing your risk of mortality is worthwhile,” says Dr. Murillo.

Learn about the Freedom From Smoking Program at Community Medical Center.