CHICAGO, Ill. – Each year lung cancer kills half of those diagnosed and more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. Unlike these other cancers, there's been no medical agreement on early detection screening for lung cancer. However, the findings of a National Cancer Institute trial have resulted in new screening recommendations, and new hope for the seven million American's who are at high risk for lung cancer.
CT scans have become a yearly ritual for Jodi Wilson. After a severe and continuous cough, doctors diagnosed and cured her lung cancer.
"I was absolutely sure if the cancer came back I would know, and I didn't." Wilson said.
In 2011, Wilson had no symptoms but doctors found a new cancer in her good lung. Researchers are just now discovering the importance of low-dose radiation chest CT scans in the early detection of lung cancer.
The National Cancer Institute study shows a 20 percent decrease in mortality compared to x-ray screening.
The new CT scan recommendations address individuals at high risk for lung cancer. For example, those who are 55 to 75 years old, those who smoke or have quit within 15 years and those who smoked at least pack a day for a total of 20 to 30 years.
Avnit Kapur, MD, Diagnostic Radiologist at Weiss Memorial Hospital Chicago is optimistic about the tests.
"If the cancer is found early it can be treated, it can be cured." Kapur said.
Wilson says she understands people's hesitation but she's living proof of the benefit of getting tested.
Currently, many insurance companies are not covering the low-dose chest CT scans for lung cancer screening, however some hospitals do offer affordable CT scans for about $200.
Lung cancer is generally defined as an overabundance of abnormal cells in one or both of the lungs. These cells are abnormal because they do not carry out normal cell functions and do not develop into healthy tissue for the lungs. As abnormal cells grow, there is greater risk of the abnormal cells forming a tumor and interfering with the proper function of the lungs. (www.lungcancer.org)
SCREENING: The first diagnosis of lung cancer is determined by the symptoms being shown. Some of these symptoms include coughing up blood, a cough that gradually gets worse and shortness of breath, all of which are associated with lung function. Unlike breast cancer and colon cancer, lung cancer is more difficult to detect. Chest X-rays alone are too unreliable to find tumors in the lungs during the early stages of lung cancer. Screenings with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) or CT scans are not yet recommended by all medical groups for smokers and former smokers who might be at risk for developing lung cancer. Some high risk factors include being between the ages of 55 to 74 and having smoked for a prolonged period of time in the last 30 years. Doctors suggest an annual screening for high risk individuals. (www.lungcancer.org)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Recently, it has been determined by radiologists that CT scans are more effective at detecting early stages of lung cancer than chest X-rays. The National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) showed a reduction in deaths associated with lung cancer after a CT scan screen. The study tested more than 50,000 current and former smokers. The individuals had annual screening tests for three consecutive years and then were monitored for the next five years. The results compared 354 lung cancer deaths from smokers who had a CT scan in relation to 442 lung cancer deaths from smokers who had chest X-rays. These results showed a 20 percent decrease in mortality rate with a CT scan. (www.mayoclinic.org)