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To Your Health: CT scans provide edge in fight vs. lung cancer

Dr. CressPerish is board-certified family practice physician Ingalls Family Care Center Matteson.

Dr. Cressa Perish is a board-certified family practice physician at Ingalls Family Care Center in Matteson.

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:13AM



Heavy smokers who are at least 55 years old and have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years should have an annual CT scan to check for lung cancer, according to a recent recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

The recommendation, which could affect more than 9 million Americans, could mean that Medicare and many health insurance companies may have to start providing the test free to eligible patients.

The targeted group consists of current smokers ages 55 to 80 or former heavy smokers who quit less than 15 years ago.

After years of research, the task force concluded that about 20 percent of lung cancer deaths might be avoided through early detection and treatment.

Experts say the CT scan screenings are comparable in their effectiveness to mammography for breast cancer and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer.

The CT screening can find lung cancers at an earlier stage when they’re most treatable, whereas chest X-rays will find tumors when they’re pretty far along.

The idea of screening seemingly healthy people for lung cancer was first proposed more than a decade ago, but until the recent USPSTF announcement, the practice hadn’t picked up much steam.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is the single biggest cause of cancers of all kinds, and it is the leading cause of lung cancer — the biggest cancer killer.

Lung cancer doesn’t start causing symptoms until it’s spread. This type of cancer alone claims the lives of 160,000 Americans each year.

That’s why I talk to my patients at every visit about the risks of smoking. I check for risk factors and have a frank discussion about smoking cessation. My biggest goal is to convince them it’s not worthwhile to smoke. If they don’t want to quit and they meet the criteria for the scan, I tell them about this program that can catch lung cancers earlier.

For some, the $199 price tag, which at this point they have to pay themselves, is an obstacle. That’s when I ask them to compare the price of a single scan vs. buying a pack of cigarettes every day for a whole year, which equates to $2,500-plus.

The math is simple. And the value of the early CT scan speaks for itself. If we can catch lung cancers earlier, patients have a much better chance for a cure.

Ingalls low-dose CT scans

If you’re a heavy smoker and concerned about the possibility of lung cancer, you should consider the Ingalls Lungs for Life screening and early detection program.

Introduced in 2007 and the first of its kind in the Southland, Lungs for Life uses low-dose spiral CT scanning to find cancerous lung tumors in their early stages — when the tumor is still highly responsive to treatment.

Participation is based on the same criteria as the USPSTF standards stated above.

Scans are available at the main hospital campus in Harvey, as well as at the Ingalls Family Care Centers in Tinley Park, Flossmoor and Calumet City.

The Ingalls screening is a painless procedure that uses low-dose radiation to scan the entire chest in about 15 seconds, during a single, large breath-hold. The CT scanner rotates around the participant, who is lying still on a table as the table passes through the center of the scanner. A computer processes the digital information coming from the scanner and then assembles these images into highly detailed cross-sectional images of the lungs.

Spiral CT can pick up tumors that are just a few millimeters in size, while chest X-rays can only detect tumors between 1 to 2 centimeters (0.4 to 0.8 inches) in size. All CT scans are reviewed by state-of-the-art computer-aided detection software that is designed to detect small nodules.

Completed scans are interpreted by an Ingalls board-certified radiologist.

If a screening participant’s scan is normal, results are sent both to the participant and to his/her primary care doctor, and annual CT screening will be recommended. For individuals with “positive” screening results — meaning that the scan reveals an abnormality — Ingalls immediately notifies the participant and the primary care doctor, and encourages a consultation with a specialist regarding further evaluation.

The scans are priced at $199 for the initial test and $149 for the subsequent annual screening scans. A physician referral is not required to schedule a lung CT scan, although a physician’s name is listed to receive results. Also included is a free screening spirometry to help detect other lung function disorders.

As the nation’s leading cause of cancer death, lung cancer is a devastating disease with a very high mortality rate — less than 5 percent survival for individuals with advanced lung cancer, or Stage 4.

The good news is that the five-year survival rate for individuals diagnosed with early lung cancer (Stage 1) is 70 percent. Even more encouraging, recent studies have shown that the 10-year survival rate for early-stage lung cancer is 92 percent.

The key to surviving lung cancer is early detection and treatment. Spiral CT scanning is helping to make that possible.

The scans can also help detect other noncancerous lung conditions, including emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Lungs for Life also focuses on the prevention of lung cancer and other diseases through a comprehensive smoking cessation program.

For more information about participating in Ingalls’ Lungs for Life lung cancer screening, call (708) 915-5864.

Dr. Cressa Perish is a board-certified family practice physician at Ingalls Family Care Center in Matteson.



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