Coinciding with National Lung Cancer Awareness month, Houston Methodist West Hospital launched a community focused lung cancer screening program Nov. 20.
More than 50 physicians and health care professionals, including thoracic and general surgeons, pulmonologists, radiologists, otolaryngologists and primary care physicians, came together to hear from Dr. Janet Macheledt, medical oncologist, and Dr. Shanda Blackmon, thoracic surgeon.
“The goal of the lung cancer screening program at Houston Methodist West is to help high-risk individuals receive a diagnosis and treatment at an earlier stage, when there is more possibility of a successful cure,” said Dr. Macheledt. “We want to find those patients where we can really make a life-saving difference.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Each year, more than 228,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed and two out of every three people diagnosed are 65 or older. Unfortunately, this group of patients is often diagnosed at an advanced stage when cure is more difficult.
In the early stages, lung cancer is asymptomatic, meaning there are no symptoms until the cancer advances to a later stage at which point it is more difficult to treat and less likely to be cured. However, results from recent studies on the impact of lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans are encouraging, and demonstrate that early screening for those at highest risk results in a 20-percent reduction in lung cancer deaths.
At Houston Methodist West, patients at highest risk– those who are 55 or older with a 30-year history of smoking an average of one pack a day, or those who are 50-55 with other high-risk criteria such as a family history of lung cancer, now have access to a lung cancer screening program which utilizes low-dose CT technology. The screening combines the advantage of diagnosing lung cancer earlier than typically found with standard chest X-rays while exposing the patient to the least amount of radiation. Patients and providers participating in the program will work with a patient navigator who will monitor their annual screenings and help patients to access services when needed. The screening program is appropriate for asymptomatic smokers or former smokers who fall into the high-risk categories and includes annual scans, consultations with health care providers, access to tobacco cessation programs and referrals to physician specialists if disease is found.
With treatment advances now available at Houston Methodist West, such as minimally invasive surgical procedures, improved radiation therapy and new targeted chemotherapy agents, those diagnosed earlier have even more options for successful treatment.
At this time, patients may need to pay for the screenings however, the economic and social impact of recent findings are so significant that some insurers are now paying for the screenings, and the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently gave a favorable recommendation for annual screening for high risk individuals implying that it is expected lung cancer screening will become the standard of care in the near future.
Those considering this screening are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider and insurance company for additional information.
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to never smoke or stop smoking as soon as possible.