Westchester Doctor Weighs the Benefits of CAT Scan for Heavy Smokers

Posted on: June 11, 2012

CT Scan Screen for Heavy Smokers Ages 55-74

by Dr. Joshua Fink 

The American Lung Association has now reached an agreement and supports a low-dose CT scan for heavy smokers. It did not lend its support to universal screening, and has re-emphasized that a Chest X Ray is not to be used as a lung cancer screening tool.  It recommends a CT scan for current or past smokers, ages 55-57 , who smoked at least “30 pack years” , which means a pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years, for example. Low dose CT scan screening of the lungs has been shown in a very large study to reduce lung cancer deaths. In fact, compared with a “screening” chest X-ray, which holds little if any purpose, the low dose CT scan has been shown to decrease death rate by 20%, which is very, very significant. The one thing patients need to consider about this test is the “false-positive” rate, which means that something may be seen which is not a cancer. The false positive rate of an “abnormal” finding can be upwards of 90%.

At present, this test is not covered by Medicare or private insurance. Furthermore, the panel has recommended that screening should be done by facilities that can offer a “multi-disciplinary” approach should something be found on the study.

One of the many questions is, “How Often”? In the landmark study, this test was done once a year for 3 years.  It is not clear if this is what will be done in a “real world” setting, outside of a clinical study.

Lung cancer is one of the top killers of Americans each and every year. Now, your physician a vital tool to more effectively screen for lung cancer, which means that cancers will be found in an earlier stage.  In most lung cancers, the earlier the stage, the greater the number of people that will survive the cancer. Of course, these advances, though promising, should never replace the absolute need to quit smoking.  Speak to your Northern Westchester Hospital doctor about a low dose CT scan of the chest if you think you might be interested.

Editor’s Note:  Joshua Fink, MD, is Director of Clinical Trials at Northern Westchester Hospital.  Learn about our Clinical Trials Program and current active trials by visiting www.nwhc.net/ClinicalTrials

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