By Emily King
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States and is responsible for around 25 percent of all cancer deaths. One in 15 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime, about 391 people per day.
Washington Health System is on a mission to improve the outlook for people considered to be at high risk for lung cancer. Their goal is to detect and treat lung cancer at the earliest stages, even before symptoms develop. With the introduction of the Lung Screening Program, WHS is providing low-dose computerized tomography scans to those who fall in that high-risk category.
Those who currently smoke or have stopped smoking within the last fifteen years are between the ages of 55-77 and previously or currently smoke 1-2 packs per day for 15-30 years are considered high risk.
As with other cancers, early screening can be a lifesaver. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, there was a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer deaths when patients were screened with a low-dose CT scan than with an X-ray. Early lung cancer detection makes a significant difference in prognosis. Cancer caught in later stages is much more challenging to treat and less successful.
Lung cancer CT screening has been available for some time, but usually only for an out-of-pocket cost. Because of the success of the screening trials, and with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s approval, most health insurance companies are covering the cost of the scans for those who are considered high-risk.
Patients concerned about their risk of lung cancer are urged to discuss the Lung Screening Program with their primary care physician. Your doctor can determine whether you meet the criteria for screening and can submit an order to WHS.
Navigating the Lung Screening Program is simple with Melissa Zucchero, WHS’s Lung Screening Coordinator. After the appointment is scheduled, she will contact the patient for more information about their risk criteria and answer any questions. She remains the point of contact for patients in the program, acting as a resource for more information and coordinating care.
Once the scan has been completed, it is submitted to a radiologist for review. Higher risk patients and those with suspicious findings on the scans are reviewed jointly by the Lung Screening Program Physicians, including pulmonologists, radiologists, a thoracic surgeon and oncologists, to make informed and collaborative decisions for recommendations regarding the next steps in appropriate care. Options can consist of further CT scans, PET scans or referrals to specialists.
Once accepted into the Lung Screening Program, patients qualify to receive yearly CT scans.
We know that cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer and accounts for 90 percent of all lung cancer cases. As part of the program, patients are offered resources for smoking cessation. No matter the patient’s age or how long they have been smoking, quitting can help lower lung cancer risk and give you a longer life.
For more information about WHS’s Lung Screening Program, you can call Melissa Zucchero at 724-250-4594.