Lung Cancer Screening Shows Promise for Early Detection

May 14, 2014 Kimberly Costas

This article features Kimberly Costas, MD, a Cardiovascular/Thoracic Surgeon and Oncologist at Providence Medical Group's Cardiac Surgery Clinic, located in North Everett.

Each year, more than 226,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer. This is the deadliest of cancers: Every year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Undeniably, smoking plays a starring role in these sobering statistics.

Compounding the Risk

Ron, a 63-year-old Lynnwood resident, has smoked for 50 years. But that’s not all that puts him at risk: He was exposed toTYH_Costas_Lungs tuberculosis and bad indoor air quality in his workplace. “I am worried about lung cancer. I thought having the CT screening would give me one more incentive to complete my smoking cessation efforts.”

Fortunately, there is extensive evidence that if lung cancer is detected early and treated, the odds for survival go up considerably. The question for doctors: How can we detect it, before symptoms develop, when we have the best chance of treating and beating it?

Early Detection is Key

Low-dose CT lung cancer screening, available through the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, has shown great promise for detecting lung cancer for smokers who fit certain criteria.

Research published by the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) in June 2011 showed a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer-related mortality among high-risk patients when a series of three annual low-dose CT screening examinations was performed, compared to a series of three chest x-rays.

“Low-dose CT can detect much smaller tumors than a conventional chest x-ray— even smaller than a dime,” says thoracic surgeon Kimberly Costas, MD. “When we detect lung cancer earlier we are more successful in curing it. There can up be to an 80 percent cure rate for early Stage I lung cancer, but currently only 10-15 percent of lung cancers are found this early.”

How it Works

Providence’s lung cancer screening program relies on a low-dose helical CT, which uses x-rays to scan the entire chest during a single, large breath-hold. A computer assembles the resulting images into detailed, two-dimensional views of the lung to be reviewed for cancer. This screening delivers a much lower dose of radiation than a regular diagnostic CT.

Is it right for me?

People between the ages of 55 and 74 with a 30-pack-year* history of smoking may benefit from lung cancer screening. The exams are intended for patients with increased risk, but no current symptoms.

Ron says the test was simple and painless, and offered a huge relief: No cancer was detected at this time. “It gives me so much peace of mind. Now it’s up to me to stay on this path and kick this awful habit once and for all.”

Dr. Costas says that quitting smoking is the most important thing a person can do for their overall health. “Not only does it reduce the risk of lung cancer, it reduces the risk of other lung disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as the risk of stroke, heart and vascular disease,” she says. “And we are so fortunate to have a stop smoking class right here in Everett, led by our wellinformed and enthusiastic respiratory therapists. This is a great time to enroll.”

* A pack year equals the number of packs smoked per day times the number of years smoked. For example, two packs per day for 15 years, or one pack per day for 30 years both equal 30 pack years.

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