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There are currently more than 100 million Americans who have smoked in their lifetime and are at high risk for the development of lung cancer. Until the 21st century, no reliable medical test was available to properly screen for the most lethal of all known human cancers, claiming more than 170,000 lives a year globally. Fortunately for these individuals, the National Lung Screening Trial has provided clear scientific proof that screening performed with low-dose chest CT can substantially reduce that risk of death.
In fact, researchers of the lung screening CT study abruptly halted their study trial in order to promote its widespread adoption due to the astounding lifesaving benefit it offered to the 55,000 patients in the eight-year trial. This scientifically proven exam is the low-dose CT lung cancer screening exam now performed in many radiology departments throughout the country.
At Wilson Medical Center, we are proudly certified to perform this screening exam for all patients at risk of developing this devastatingly lethal form of cancer. Understanding the indications for the exam, the interpretation of the results and the subsequent medical and surgical management is vital for patients and practitioners to fully understand for a successful outcome with their screening exams.
Prior to the advent of the low-dose CT lung cancer screening exam, there had been no scientifically validated method by which to screen for lung cancer. In some practices, annual screening chest X-rays had been performed for the early detection of lung cancer despite any scientific proof that it was helpful. However, due to the results of the NLST study, chest X-rays are now strongly not recommended in the screening process of early lung cancer due to its much lower sensitivity compared to low-dose chest CT. In fact, LCDT is so much more effective than conventional X-rays in screening for lung cancer that more than 20 percent reduction in mortality had occurred in those patients enrolled in the study. The NLST study also examined the cost-benefit savings of the low-dose CT exam and found a long-term benefit as well compared to the costs of late-stage lung cancer treatments.
Patients between the ages of 55-77 who have smoked for an equivalent of 30-pack years or more are eligible for this exam, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Also, those over 50 years of age with more than 20 pack-year history of smoking and additional conditions such as COPD, prior cancer or certain occupational exposures also qualify for the screening test. Patients with a smoking history should discuss this with their primary practitioner.
Since receiving designation as a Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology, Wilson Medical Center has offered the exam to all qualifying patients. As a diagnostic and interventional radiologist at Wilson Medical Center, I have witnessed many cases of early lung cancer detection because of the screening program. Also, as a participant in the weekly Multidisciplinary Tumor Board at Wilson Medical, I have seen an increase in earlier-stage lung cancer detection directly because of the lung cancer screening program. As more patients and practitioners learn about the exam and its lifesaving benefit, I believe that many more lives will be saved.
For more information on lung cancer screenings, visit wilsonmedical.com or call 252-399-8900.
Jonathan Lozevski, M.D., is a radiologist on staff at Wilson Medical Center. He is board-certified in diagnostic radiology and vascular and interventional radiology.