Lung Cancer Screening Tool Proven to Save Lives

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Based on the results of a recent study, health care professionals are doing everything in their power to let Butte County smokers, who are at risk for contracting lung cancer know that there is a screening tool that could potentially save their lives.

Results of the study verified that using low-dose computer tomography (CT), generally referred to as a "CAT" scan, can enable physicians to detect lung cancer in at-risk past or present smokers.

The National Lung Screening Trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, recently testified an annual low-dose CT scan of the chest of patients who are high-risk for lung cancer, can save their lives.

The research confirms that 1-in-100 high-risk individuals involved in the study were found to have lung cancer on the first screening, according to a fact sheet put together by public relations coordinator for North State Radiology in Chico, Tracie Fox. One life was saved for every 320 high-risk people screened three times with the low-dose CT scan over two years.

The study's outcomes resulted in a lung cancer-specific mortality benefit, or increased survival rate, compared to annual screening by X-ray.

“The study shows the scan can save lives,” said diagnostic radiologist and clinic director at North State Radiology, Dr. Ata Alijani.

"For a screening to be able to save lives is great. The fact that the studies have shown that you can save lives and decrease the mortality rates by 20 percent; that's really big. That's unheard of for a screening test."

According to The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, ‘the annual low-dose CT scan is a screening tool proven to benefit high-risk individuals.’

These at-risk people are outlined as 55-74 years old, current smokers or past smokers who quit within the last 15 years, and those who have smoked the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day for a period of 30 years.

“By utilizing the low-dose CT scan as a lung cancer screening tool, the trial found several tumors that weren't destined to be found,” said lung cancer specialist, UC San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Matthew Gubens.

“By using a lower dose of radiation, thousands of patients can be screened annually for such potentially dangerous and possibly cancerous tumors,” he said.

“North State Radiology has had the CT-scanner utilized for this screening test for four years. The screening tool allows radiologists, technicians and physicians to acquire the same detail information about the lungs with modifying and decreasing the radiation dose to the patient,” added Alijani.

Ever since the study trial generated such gripping mortality rates, physicians like Dr. Erik Stickney, a radiation oncologist at Enloe Regional Cancer Center, want to do all they can to get the word out to at-risk smokers who are eligible for the test.

“This imaging gives patients a better idea of what is going on. The study discovered this tool can reduce the number of deaths and increase the survival rates in patients. If we can detect them early, we do much better than detecting them later. There is an 80 to 90 percent survival rate if the cancer is discovered in its early stages. The chance of survival decreases to 10 to 25 percent chance for a cure when it goes past the lymph nodes. The cancer is incurable if it gets to the point where it has spread to the bones or parts of the brain,” he said.

Alijani describes the scanning process as simple, explaining that the patient comes in, gets on the scanner, takes a deep breath, the scan happens, and that's it. Radiologists will usually have results sent to the person's physician within 24 hours.

“Patients who are interested in getting the scan must be referred by their physician before calling the clinic. A North Valley Imaging representative will contact the patient when the referral is approved,” said Fox.

“Some insurance companies will cover the cost of the scan, especially if the patient fits the at-risk criteria. Medicare and Medi-Cal, California's Medicare program, aren't currently paying for the scan, but it may be an approved tool early this year because of changes implemented by the Affordable Care Act, which allows patients to have access to evidence-based care,” noted Alijani.

"I think one good thing about the Affordable Care Act is that it is trying to let patients have access to evidence-based care. Medicare said that if the data is there, then people will have access to this care. These are all approved treatments," added Gubens.

Indeed Fox mentions that patients without insurance can pay out of their pocket for the scan at $375 face-value.

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