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With early detection and screenings, lung cancer is most treatable

Michelle Martin, for Karmanos Cancer Institute
Annual lung cancer screenings can detect cancer when it is the most treatable.

Many people know that yearly mammograms detect breast cancer, but there’s another cancer screening that is just as important. While not as widely known, annual lung cancer screenings can catch cancer early, when it is most treatable.

That is especially important because lung cancer is the most preventable type of cancer, but also one of the highest causes of cancer deaths. Lung cancer accounts for 25 percent of all cancer deaths — more than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. This year alone, more than 280,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease. With early detection and screenings, many lives can be saved.

The best way to detect lung cancer early is with low-dose spiral commuted tomography, also known as a low-dose spiral CT scan. The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute uses this technology to screen, detect and track suspicious-looking lung nodules, or small masses of tissue, before they become cancerous. It is similar to the ways that mammograms and pap smears can find issues early.

“We follow nodules the same way a Coast Guard follows ships,” said David Sternberg, M.D., a member of  Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Thoracic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team and a thoracic surgeon. “A lot of patients have nodules. It’s the behavior of the nodules that we watch out for.”

The CT scan takes pictures of the inside of the entire chest in five to 10 seconds. It offers five times less exposure than a full-dose diagnostic CT chest scan and can find abnormalities that a standard chest X-ray cannot detect.

A National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) run by the National Cancer Institute studied two ways of detecting lung cancer: through low-dose CT scans or a standard chest X-ray. The study found that those who received the CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than those who received the chest X-rays. This is because standard X-rays only can detect nodules 30 millimeters or larger, about the size of a dime, but the low-dose CT technology can detect abnormalities about the size of a grain of rice. Finding cancer early can lead to better treatment options because it is less likely the cancer cells have spread.

Based on the findings from the National Lung Screening Trial, Karmanos Cancer Institute developed a Lung Cancer Screening Program, which offers a yearly low-dose CT scan for those who are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Screenings are available at Karmanos’ headquarters in Detroit and Karmanos cancer centers throughout the state of Michigan.

The Lung Cancer Screening Program is open to men and women who:

  • Are ages 55 to 80
  • Are current smokers or smokers who quit no more than 15 years ago
  • Have a 30-pack per year smoking history. This may mean one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years.

The Lung Cancer Screening Program includes a visit with a Karmanos lung cancer specialist to discuss the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening. Patients who qualify for the program receive annual low-dose CT scans, which a Karmanos radiologist will review and track for yearly changes. Even if a scan is clear, patients should continue to have one each year to be sure new nodules haven’t developed.

If a scan shows an abnormality, a radiologist may recommend further testing. It’s also recommended that patients follow up with a Karmanos lung specialist or their primary health care provider to discuss the results of the scan.

For patients who are diagnosed with a cancerous lung nodule, Karmanos can provide treatments that are often not available at other hospitals and health organizations in Michigan. Karmanos is the only hospital in Michigan dedicated exclusively to fighting cancer and its team members are national leaders in diagnosing and treating chest malignancies.

Lung cancer screening requires a multidisciplinary approach, and physicians from different disciplines, including oncology, pathology and pulmonology, collaborate to monitor changes from a patient’s CT scan over time. Karmanos also offers patients an opportunity to participate in lung cancer clinical trials, with a wide array of trials currently open within its network of locations.

With expertise from a multidisciplinary team and opportunities to participate in groundbreaking trials, lung cancer patients at Karmanos can rest assured that they are getting the best possible care — and for many, they are getting it early thanks to lung cancer screenings.

“Our program isn’t run by a single radiologist,” Sternberg said. “All we do is treat lung cancer every day. The sheer number of people who specialize in treating lung cancer and conducting research into lung cancer gives Karmanos the added expertise to successfully catch lung cancer early so it can be treated successfully.”

To enroll in the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Karmanos Cancer Institute, visit karmanos.org/LungScreening.

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