Although lung cancer death rates in Monmouth County have declined slightly according to government statistics, the disease still remains the second leading cause of death in the United States — and also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths nationwide. For many cancers, including lung cancer, treatment success and increases in long-term survival rates have been linked to effective screening and earlier detection.
The early stages of lung cancer are symptom-free. Typically, lung cancer is not diagnosed until someone sees a doctor after experiencing warning signs such as chronic coughing, chest pain, coughing up blood, or difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, by the time a tumor is large enough to cause these types of symptoms, the cancer has often already spread beyond the lungs into other parts of the body.
That’s why I strongly encourage all at-risk women and men to get screened for lung cancer — especially smokers between the ages of 55 and 77, and long-time smokers who have quit within the past 15 years.
Getting Screened at CentraState
Low-dose CT scanning is the currently recommended standard of care when screening for lung cancer. CT scanning has been found to be better than traditional chest X-ray at finding cancerous tumors in an early stage when the cancer can be easier to treat and the likelihood of a positive outcome is higher. A CT scan gives doctors a clearer, higher-resolution view of the lungs than a chest X-ray, and a CT scan can also pinpoint very small nodules in the lungs (not all of these are cancerous, by the way!).
The screening process itself is very simple, painless, and non-invasive. There’s no bloodwork, fasting or other prep required before the procedure, and the scan takes only a few minutes.
Current screening guidelines
In certain high-risk individuals, yearly screening for lung cancer is now covered by most private insurance plans and Medicare. If the following guidelines apply to you, a low-dose CT screening for lung cancer is highly recommended:
- Be a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
- Be asymptomatic (no symptoms of lung cancer). If you are experiencing symptoms, please see your primary care doctor or call 866-236-8727 for a referral.
- Have smoked a minimum of 20 “pack years,” which is the equivalent of one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.
- Be between ages 50 and 80* (50 to 77 for Medicare patients).
- Have a prescription for a low-dose CT scan for lung screening, which can be provided by our team or your physician.
CT screening for lung cancer is also recommended when:
- You’ve been exposed to radon, asbestos, or other cancer-causing substances in your home or workplace
- You have a family history of lung cancer or personal history of lung disease
- You have a personal history of another smoking-related cancer (bladder cancer or cancer in the head, neck or throat)
- You received chest radiation as a child to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Screening saves lives
I have been a co-medical advisor of the Comprehensive Lung Care Program at CentraState since its inception. Since 2013, we have screened nearly 600 women and men through this important life-saving program. The vast majority of these individuals — 84 percent — had negative screenings, which is great news. The remaining 16 percent were found to have an abnormality that required closer follow-up. Of the group that required closer follow-up, 14 lung cancers were diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, more than 80 percent were found to have early-stage disease requiring no further treatment after surgery.
In addition, only three screening participants were found to have non-cancerous lung masses, which we generally refer to as benign pulmonary nodules. Screening also can help detect areas of inflammation or infection in the lungs known as granulomas, which can be due to a variety of causes, as well as areas of pulmonary fibrosis and scarring.
For individuals whose screening shows an area of concern, the Comprehensive Lung Care Program at CentraState is a complete resource for follow-up evaluation and care. If cancer is detected, our multidisciplinary team of specialists works together to determine the best plan of care specifically for each patient. We’re here to support you every step of the way. The American College of Radiology (ACR), a national organization that sets quality standards for medical imaging providers, has designated CentraState as a Lung Cancer Screening Center. This means the hospital and its providers have a demonstrated commitment to practicing safe, effective diagnostic care for individuals at the highest risk for lung cancer.
Robert J. Caccavale, MD is a board-certified thoracic surgeon and co-medical advisor of the Comprehensive Lung Care Program at CentraState Medical Center. He is a recognized expert in video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), a minimally invasive treatment approach for lung cancer. For more information on lung cancer screening, the Comprehensive Lung Care Program, and all of the cancer services provided at The Statesir Cancer Center at CentraState, call 866-CENTRA7.