GALLIPOLIS — Finding early signs of lung cancer was once next to impossible, but studies are proving that screening with low-dose CT scans may identify the beginnings of disease in high-risk patients.
Holzer officials say they now offer this type of screening at its Athens and Gallipolis locations.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with about 175,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients is only 16.6 percent. An annual low-dose CT screening test for individuals at high risk has the potential to dramatically improve lung cancer survival rates by finding the disease at an early treatable stage. It is estimated that if everyone who is at high risk is screened, there will be a 14 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths in the United States.
The goal of screening is to detect lung cancer at a time when it is not causing symptoms and when treatment can be most successful, Holzer officials said. Screening should increase survival and quality of life. A recent study, referred to as the National Lung Screening Trial, has demonstrated that screening under the appropriate conditions and in the right individuals can reduce death from lung cancer by 20 percent. Additional factors such as family history and occupational exposure, hospital staff said, can play a role and should be discussed with a doctor or a member of the lung team.
Holzer official said the hospital will only screen those individuals who are considered high risk.
Individuals who are eligible to receive the low-dose CT scan include patients age 55-77, and are smokers or who have quit within the last 15 years with a smoking history of at least 30 packs-years. Pack-years are calculated by multiplying the average number of packs of cigarettes a person smokes per day by the number of years a person has smoked.
The benefits of lung cancer screening CT scans are highest for those with significant lung cancer risk. Current research has focused on patients at a high risk for lung cancer. Several factors contribute to lung cancer risk: age, smoking history, environmental exposure to carcinogens like asbestos, beryllium, or radon, and exposure to second-hand smoke.
“The older you are and the more you’ve smoked or been exposed to smoke and other carcinogens, the higher your risk will be,” said Karrie Swain Davison, communications coordinator for Holzer Health System.
Every person who is scheduled for the screening will meet with Holzer’s program coordinator, Sandy Thomas, who will answer questions and facilitate any necessary follow-up. She will communicate with the referring physician and the Holzer Lung Team to ensure comprehensive care.
CT Stands for “computerized tomography”. In a CT scan, dozens of low-dose X-rays are taken all at once from various angles. The information is fed into a computer which produces highly detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the body.
“If you think of the body as a loaf of bread, what the CT can do is provide a highly detailed image of any ‘slice’ of that loaf,” Thomas said. “Unlike regular X-rays, these pictures can show tiny differences present in soft tissue and bone. CT scans are typically used to look for cancer in various organs.”
New CT scanners such as the advanced 64 slice Brilliance CT used at Holzer are designed to ensure low levels of radiation exposure to patients and staff.
“Today’s advanced CT scanners offer an optimal combination of low radiation exposure and short examination times while maintaining excellent quality images,” Thomas said.
CT results will be read by a radiologist, usually within 24 hours. Holzer boasts seven board-certified radiologists: Dr. Phillip B. Long, medical director of radiology; Dr. Michael Meyers; Dr. Bruce Pennington; Dr. Dean Siciliano; Dr. Amy Bokal and Dr. Stephen Conley, all of whom have extensive experience reading CT scans. Results are mailed to the patient in a week or less with instructions. They are also available on Holzer’s patient portal, MyHolzer.com.
Holzer in Gallipolis and Athens are designated lung cancer screening centers by the American College of Radiology Committee on CT Accreditation. For more information, call Thomas at (740) 441-3905 or email [email protected]