New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Expected to Improve Survival Rates

-Rudy P. Lackner, MD,
thoracic surgical oncologist

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States and is the most preventable.  It causes more deaths in women than breast, cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers combined. Rudy P. Lackner, MD, thoracic surgical oncologist, is hopeful that a new screening will help turn those statistics around.

Until recently, about 75 percent of lung cancer cases were found at advanced stages of the disease. Lung cancer found at these stages have a cure rate of 5 percent or lower. “Lung cancers are difficult to diagnose early because most people who develop lung cancer initially lack symptoms that warrant medical attention. It’s not until the disease has progressed, do symptoms such as persistent cough, chest pain, shortness of breath or recurring infections begin to appear,” says Dr. Lackner. The most common diagnostic test had been X-rays, which are inadequate at picking up lung cancer at an early stage.

But new guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) recommend certain high-risk groups can benefit from lung cancer screening with low-dose Computed Tomography (CT) scan.  “A CT scan can detect lung cancer nodules in stage 1A when the cure rate can be as high as 90 percent or more,” says Dr. Lackner. “This is very good news because the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is highest when the disease is still localized, but few lung cancers are diagnosed at this early stage.”

With these new NCCN guidelines, current or former smokers aged 50 years or older with a 20 pack-history could benefit from a CT scan lung cancer screening.  A 20 pack-year history is defined as smoking one pack each day for 20 years or two packs each day for 10 years. This applies even to individuals who smoked in their earlier years and have not smoked for many years. “For those people who fall into this high-risk group, they should discuss the pros and cons of being screened with their primary care doctor,” notes Dr. Lackner.

The Nebraska Medical Center now offers CT scans for lung cancer screening at the Village Pointe Cancer Center. The $250 scan is available for those who meet the above criteria. All screenings are self-pay. Appointments can be made by calling 9-4389 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The chance for long-term survival improves when the medical team involved has a dedicated interest in treating patients with lung cancer. “Determining what should be done if nodules are found is one of the most challenging aspects of this screening,” says Dr. Lackner. “The new type of screening for lung cancer and our team of specialists are accessible to our employees. I am hopeful that both current and former smokers take advantage of the opportunity, which could be lifesaving.”

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