Screening program aims to reduce lung cancer mortality |

Screening program aims to reduce lung cancer mortality

burning cigarette with smoke on black background
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American men have a one in 15 chance of developing lung cancer in their lifetime; American women, a one in 17 chance. These sobering statistics, from the American Cancer Society, include both smokers and non-smokers. For people who smoke, the risk is much higher.

While the overall number of cases of lung cancer is smaller than prostate cancer (in men) and breast cancer (in women), more people die of lung cancer every year than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

One of the factors that makes lung cancer so deadly is that it is often diagnosed in the later stages, making treatment significantly less successful.

That is where early detection screening programs, like the one offered at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, can make a profound difference.

“In the United States lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer,” explains Dr. Greg Federer, Diagnostic Radiologist at SNMH. “The majority of lung cancers are diagnosed at a more advanced state. Lung cancer screening is the best way to detect lung cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.”

Dr. Federer explains that the lung cancer screening exam is done by performing a low dose CT (Computed Tomography) scan of the lungs.

“We evaluate for any abnormalities that could indicate early signs of lung cancer,” Dr. Federer explains. “National Cancer Institute studies have demonstrated that screening for lung cancer with low dose CT reduces lung cancer deaths by 20 percent. This means that early detection and treatment of lung cancer could save 70,000 lives.”

The lung cancer screening program at SNMH began five years ago and currently screens about 150 patients every year.

Who should participate in the SNMH lung cancer screening program? Dr. Federer recommends that all patients determined to be high-risk for lung cancer be screened yearly. Patients considered to be high risk meet all the following criteria:

— age 50 and older

— a current smoker or quit smoking less than 15 years ago

— have smoked the equivalent of “30 pack years”

“Pack years” are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked a day and the number of years that you smoked.

For example, a person with 30 pack years of smoking history may have smoked a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years or three-quarters of a pack a day for 40 years.

Dr. Federer explains that even if your smoking habits changed over the years, your recollection about your smoking history can be used to determine whether lung cancer screening may be beneficial for you.

“The target group for the lung cancer screening program is anyone age 50 or older who smokes or did smoke regularly,” says Dr. Federer. “They are at high risk and would benefit most by early detection.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (an independent panel of experts that systematically reviews the effectiveness of and recommendations for clinical preventive services) recommends lung cancer screening for high risk individuals continue until age 80 or until serious health conditions develop that limit the benefit of screening.

Health insurance companies typically cover lung cancer screening for those who meet the guidelines specified by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

For those on Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cover lung cancer screening for those who qualify.

Dr. Federer says the impact of early detection on the success of lung cancer treatment should not be underestimated.

“By the time lung cancer signs and symptoms develop, the lung cancer is usually at an advanced state which reduces or eliminates our ability to effectively treat and possibly cure the disease,” Dr. Federer explains. “If we are able to catch it early through an early screening program like the one at SNMH, we have a better chance at helping patients survive the disease.”

For more information on Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s lung cancer screening program, call 530-274-6600.

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