Lung Cancer Screening Detects Cancer Sooner

Posted on: November 3, 2015

Westchester Thoracic Surgery Chief on the Advanced Lung Cancer Screening that’s Saving Record Numbers of Lives

By Christos Stavropoulos, MD, FACS, Chief of the Thoracic Surgery Division and Director of the Lung Cancer Program at the Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center at Northern Westchester Hospital

You may know that lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in the U.S. (and worldwide).*  But you may not know that an advanced type of screening — the Low-Dose CT Scan – is reducing lung cancer deaths by 20 percent.* Its effectiveness makes this scan today’s “standard of care” for those at high risk; and it is newly covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. Read on to see if you meet the screening criteria, and to learn how Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH) makes sure every eligible person can afford this test.

Who should get a Low-Dose CT screening?

If you meet each of these criteria, Low-Dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screening, which is conducted at NWH, may be right for you:

  • You are between 55 and 74 years old;
  • You have a smoking history of 30 pack years. That means you smoke (or smoked) one pack daily for 30 years, two packs daily for 15 years, or three packs daily for 10 years;
  • You currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years;
  • You have no symptoms of lung cancer.

What exactly is LDCT screening?

LDCT lung cancer screening is a new form of traditional CT (computed tomography) imaging technology that uses a very low dose of radiation to provide critical 3-D information about the lungs. It is unprecedented in its ability to detect ever-smaller lung cancers called nodules – small lesions or defects in lung tissue that can represent early cancers. The life-saving power of earlier detection can’t be overstated. When we catch cancer early — when it is smallest — we can have the most impact on prognosis and survival. According to the American Cancer Society, LDCT screening is shown to prevent up to 12,000 deaths from lung cancer a year in the US.

Why is getting screened so essential?

Screening for lung cancer is particularly vital, as this cancer presents no symptoms in its early stage. Here’s why: The lung is a relatively large organ. Picture a marble floating within a big balloon. For the marble to have a noticeable impact, it must become bigger. Only when that marble becomes the size of an acorn or an orange, do symptoms develop. There may be pain as the now-bigger growth presses against neighboring lung tissue or blood vessels; or a persistent cough can develop from its pressure against the airways. That is why a person harboring early-stage lung cancer usually reports they “feel fine,” and precisely why screening is necessary and effective.

What are the chances of something being found?

Most screening results are negative. The overwhelming majority of nodules are benign. Fewer than three percent of those screened will need intervention in the form of a biopsy. Of those people, only a small percentage wind up having cancer. That’s the point: We are looking for those few people with lung cancer. As with any screening, a small number of false positives can lead to unnecessary diagnostic biopsies. However, every biopsy performed at Northern Westchester Hospital is done using the most up-to-date, minimally invasive method possible. When lung cancer is diagnosed, NWH offers comprehensive oncologic care second to none.

How affordable is the LDCT screening?

Medicare now covers LDCT screening and commercial insurers are moving toward coverage. But what if you meet the eligibility criteria, and don’t have commercial insurance or Medicare? NWH can help — with a wide range of payment options and below-average pricing. We will work with you. If you can benefit from the screening, we make sure you get it.

Steps to take

If you believe you meet the screening criteria, speak to your primary care physician about ordering an LDCT. If you don’t have a physician who can refer, NWH’s nurse practitioner will perform a comprehensive assessment, determine eligibility and order an LDCT if necessary. NWH is going the extra mile to make this potentially life-saving screening 100 percent accessible to everyone who needs it.

*National Institutes of Health (NIH)

To learn more about the Lung Cancer Screening Program or to make an appointment with our Nurse Practitioner, call 914-242-7695 from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.