You’ve heard it said often, but screening truly does have the potential to save lives, and the new low-dose CT screening program available at EAMC provides a way to detect lung cancer early in high-risk patients.
A CT scan uses X-rays to make detailed images of your body. Unlike a standard X-ray that takes one picture, a CT scan rotates and takes images from many different angles. According to the American Cancer Society, “when a low-dose CT scan of the chest is done for lung cancer screening, it’s common to find small, abnormal areas (called nodules or masses) in the lungs, especially in current or former smokers. Most lung nodules seen on CT scans are not cancer. They are more often the result of old infections, scar tissue, or other causes. But tests are often needed to be sure a nodule is not cancer.”
Justin Phillpott, M.D., a board-certified radiologist at EAMC, explains that low-dose CT scans are important because they could potentially detect lung cancer early, which could save lives. “Several studies have come out in the past 10 years proving that low-dose (meaning low radiation dose) CT scans performed on high-risk patients might detect cancers that could otherwise have been missed,” Dr. Phillpott explains. “Until now, the only cancer screening available in radiology was a mammogram.” The American College of Radiology (ACR) only recently approved low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening and EAMC began performing them in the past few years. Auburn Diagnostic Imaging, a service of EAMC, is the only location in the area accredited by ACR to perform low-dose CT scans. Because this is a cancer screening, it is covered by most insurance plans. “Patients with a long smoking history – more than 30 pack years (one pack per day for an entire year is considered a pack year) smoking and more than 50 years of age are candidates for this type of screening,” Dr. Phillpott says.
Dr Phillpott says for people who meet the criteria, this is a good preventative measure to take. “If lung cancer is detected early, like many other cancers, there is a much higher rate of survival. There are no needles required for this test and we do not have to draw the patient’s blood. Once the patient is on the table, the scan itself only takes a few minutes. This test is also safe for patients who have pacemakers.” Dr. John Cabelka, a board-certified radiation oncologist at the Cancer Center of East Alabama, explains the value of a low-dose CT scan. “Prevention is key, followed by early detection,” Dr. Cabelka explains. “By detecting lung cancer earlier, low-dose CT lung cancer screening shows a decrease in the risk of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent, compared to a chest x-ray screening. Most early stage, and thus potentially curable, lung cancer cases I see were discovered ‘incidentally.’ Low-dose CT screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking. The most important issue is smoking—do not start and do not let your kids start. Quit immediately if you are smoking now.”