It’s estimated a quarter million Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. It’s the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. More than half of patients find out they have lung cancer when it’s almost too late.
Lung cancer continues to frustrate doctors and decimate patients. It’s one of the most commonly diagnosed and most lethal of cancers.
“Unfortunately most of the patients present in late stages of disease. And the reason is that many times it doesn’t have very specific symptoms,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez, an oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System medical staff.
Doctors have long searched for a reliable screening test, in particular for high risk groups including smokers over the age of 55, those with a history of second hand smoke exposure, and anyone with occupational exposure to inhaled chemicals. Many doctors used chest x-rays to look for early tumors.
“The problem with chest x-rays is that they’re not very specific or sensitive, meaning that they often can’t delineate or separate good things from bad things,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
Instead of giving up, researchers looked deeper into more advanced x-ray technology to find something more reliable that might save lives.
“There’s a better alternative now. There’s something called a Low Dose Computerized Tomography, or low dose CAT scan, which basically looks at the lungs and the chest in a way that gives much more information than on a regular x-ray,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
A low dose, spiral CT scan generates a 3D image in a matter of seconds while keeping radiation exposure to a minimum. It is more successful at finding lesions. Studies find it’s better than standard x-rays.
“They could actually compare to plain x-rays decreased risk of mortality of lung cancer by 20 percent, which is a significant number,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
Sixty percent of lung cancers are currently picked up in late stages. Something with the potential to find cancer early could be the game changer doctors are looking for.