New Lung Cancer Screening Offers Hope

by Dr. Bill Saliski     

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. In 2013, lung cancer diagnosis and subsequent deaths outnumbered breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined. Advances in surgical, radiotherapeutic and chemotherapeutic approaches have been made, but the long-term survival remains low. Unfortunately, once patients present with clinical signs of lung cancer, it is usually far advanced.

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The statistics are staggering:

  • After the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on smoking and health, mortality from lung cancer among men peaked and then fell; among women the peak occurred later and a slight decline has occurred more recently.
  • Even though the rate of heavy smoking continues to decline in the United States, 94 million current or former smokers remain at elevated risk for the disease.
  • The prevalence of smoking is substantially higher in developing countries than in the United States, and the worldwide burden of lung cancer is projected to rise significantly during the coming years.
  • In Central Alabama, between 2002 and 2011, there were 1,841 lung cancer deaths.
  • Average survival is only 16 percent after five years of diagnosis.

However, now there is new hope on the horizon. A landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed annual CT scans of the chest done on high-risk patients reduced lung cancer mortality by 20 percent. For the first time, we will be able to screen for lung cancer, much like colonoscopies and mammograms.

Baptist Hospital, the Montgomery Cancer Center and a dedicated group of physicians, nurses and administrators have worked together to form our own lung cancer screening program. This will be the crown jewel of a comprehensive lung cancer program here in Central Alabama. We will be looking to our primary care physicians to send us their high-risk patients for screening.
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So who is “high risk?”

  • current or former smokers that quit in the last 15 years between ages 55-77 with a 30-pack-year smoking history.
  • current or former smokers with a 20-pack-year smoking history with other risk factors, such as a family history of lung cancer.

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If you or a loved one are at high risk, please consider speaking with your doctor and discussing this revolutionary new screening process. Expect to discuss smoking cessation; the most important thing one can do to decrease their risk of lung cancer, COPD and numerous chronic medical conditions.

A physician’s order is required for Baptist Health Lung Cancer Screening. Most insurance plans, including Medicare, will cover the annual screening CT scan. If your insurance plan does not, Baptist offers the screening CT scan for less than $100. Together, we can overcome one of Alabama’s leading causes of cancer death.