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Scanning for Lung Cancer: October 7, 2013

Lung cancer- it’s the most lethal of cancers. Not because of its nature but because it’s commonly picked up later.

“Most patients when they present with symptoms have later stage disease and the likelihood of cure is lower,” says Dr. Keith Miller, oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

More than 225,000 people will learn they have lung cancer this year. Only 15% will live five years. Now a new tool is helping doctors pinpoint problems earlier than ever before.

“CT scans have obviously been available for quite some time; the big thing now is the faster lower radiation CT scans. Helical CT scans as a way to do a screening for lung cancer,” says Dr. Miller.

CT scans can locate tumors as small as a half inch, compared to x-ray, which can only detect one at least an inch in size.

“Chest x-rays are 2-dimensional; CT scans are 3-dimensional. That’s really the biggest difference here. Actually doing slices through the chest to see the whole chest better versus the chest x-ray,” says Dr. Miller.

It’s not practical or productive to screen the entire population. The goal is to reach the most people who have the highest risk of disease.

A major study is defining potential patients. It found benefit in using low-dose scans on people between the ages of 55-74 who averaged a pack of cigarettes a day for thirty years. Trials found a 20% reduction in deaths.

“We don’t want to do 30 year olds; we don’t want to do 90 year olds. We don’t want to screen people who are not smokers. We want to follow the close guidelines that they used in the trial,” says Dr. Miller.

Looking for lung cancer in the most likely people, may lead to finding it early enough to make a difference.