One in four cancer deaths begins with a tumor in the lungs. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming more than 150,000 lives each year. Screening saves lives—but it works better for some people than others. A new study sheds more light on who should get CT scans to
detect lung cancer.
“Many people die of lung cancer because the disease often goes undetected until it has reached an advanced stage,” explains Anthony Vacca, D.O. “Low-dose CT scans of the chest can detect lung cancer earlier, when doctors have a better chance of curing it.” Dr. Vacca is the principal investigator for the International-Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) offered through both Good Samaritan
Regional Health Center and St. Mary’s Hospital cancer care programs, which are accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.
CT scans are able to detect tumors that are smaller than a grain of rice. These growths are often too small to be visible on a chest x-ray. The I-ELCAP at St. Mary’s Good Samaritan offers CT scans at a significantly reduced cost.
“The test, however, has some disadvantages as well as benefits,” adds Dr. Vacca. Scans can detect tiny abnormalities that may be early-stage cancer. More often than not, the follow-up will reveal a nonmalignant cause—you actually don’t have cancer. Doctors work hard to determine which patients are at the greatest risk and who may gain the most from lung cancer screenings. This will avoid unnecessary exposures to the small level of radiation associated with CT scanning.”
In a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 53,000 participants at risk for lung cancer were split into five groups
based on how likely they were to develop the disease over a period of five years. This was determined by such factors as age and how long they smoked.
The group of patients with the greatest risk of developing lung cancer—those in the top 20 percent—saw the most benefit from undergoing scanning. They also had fewer false positives than people at lower risk.
To qualify for participation in the I-ELCAP screening, you must: be age 50 or older; be a current or former smoker who at least smoked one pack per day for 30 years—or smoked two packs per day for 15 years; have no prior cancers; and have not had a chest CT in the past year.
If all of these people have a low-dose CT scan, it’s possible that 20 percent fewer people would die of lung cancer. “The bottom line? If you smoke, or did in the past, discuss your lung cancer risk with your doctor. He or she can help you decide if
this screening makes sense for you,” Dr. Vacca advises. Before receiving a CT Scan, a prescription/order is needed from your physician.
Dr. Vacca works closely with three other critical care pulmonology physicians, David West, M.D.; Rajeev Varma, M.D.; and J. Israel Gaitan, M.D. In addition to their pulmonology practice, they staff the Critical Care Unit at Good Samaritan Regional Health Center.
To learn more about the I-ELCAP program, call either hospital’s Navigator at
618-899-1894 in Mt. Vernon or 618-436-8277 in Centralia. Information is also available at www.smgsi.com/pages/lung.aspx.