November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and Lake Regional Health System is encouraging people with a history of smoking to learn more about lung cancer screening.
"A simple lung scan can save a life," said Lake Regional Radiologist Michael Vierra, M.D. "At Lake Regional Imaging Center, we've offered a lung cancer screening program covered by Medicare for more than a year, and we want to encourage people to take advantage of this service. Medicare covers this screening because in most cases, surviving lung cancer depends on catching it early, and catching it early is difficult to do without screening."
Getting the Word Out
Unfortunately, very few Americans at high risk for lung cancer get screened. Medicare covers an annual low-dose CT scan for people age 55 to 77 who have a history of heavy smoking and who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years. "Heavy smoking" means a smoking history of 30 pack years, which equals one pack a day for 30 years; two packs a day for 15 years; three packs a day for 10 years, etc.
According to a September 2017 Kansas City Star article, 9 million Americans fit those criteria, but only 230,000 of them — about 2.5 percent — have been screened.
"It's a real problem," Dr. Vierra said of the low screening rates. "We know there are hundreds of people in our area who need this screening but who aren't aware that Medicare covers it or that it's available so close to home. We want to reach those people with what could be lifesaving information."
The Right Tools, Safer Tests
Dr. Vierra also wants people to understand what Lake Regional is doing to limit false-positive results, which occur when a screening wrongly, or falsely, shows cancer.
"It's a concern because positive results lead to further tests," Dr. Vierra said. "At some hospitals, the only follow-up tests available are invasive procedures that for some patients, carry significant risk. However, that's not the case at Lake Regional. I'm thankful our pulmonologist, Dr. Harjyot Sohal, offers endobronchial ultrasound, also called EBUS, for lung cancer diagnosis and staging. With EBUS, Dr. Sohal can view multiple areas of the lungs and collect precise samples without invasive surgery."
Although it's impossible to avoid all false-positive results, using state-of-the-art technology that provides incredibly detailed imaging can help minimize the number of people alarmed unnecessarily. Such technology also is available at Lake Regional Imaging Center, which in October installed a new low-dose CT scanner, the SOMATOM Perspective CT scanner from Siemens Medical Solutions.
"Our new 128-slice scanner captures exceptional detail, and it does so at a high scan speed," Dr. Vierra said. "That means patients do not have to hold their breath as long, so we get better images and need fewer rescans."
Those interested in receiving lung cancer screening should discuss the testing with their doctor. A physician's order is required for the service.
Lake Regional Cancer Center offers a range of services to treat the whole person — not just the cancer. These services include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, nutrition therapy, palliative care, support groups, resource navigation and educational classes. Lake Regional Cancer Center treats many types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon, lung, lymphoma and prostate cancers. To learn more, visit www.lakeregional.com/cancercare.