Hi, this is Chelsie from B105's Big Dave Show, and I’m excited to be starting a paid partner with The Christ Hospital Health Network to highlight trends in
health and medical technology, starting with the life-saving lung CT screening program you'll learn more about in this blog!
My parents were smokers for years. Because of that, whenever I hear of someone being diagnosed with lung cancer, I get worried for my parents. I know that a lot of people started smoking years ago and were just not ever able to quit.
The Christ Hospital Health Network has a way to ease the minds of those worried about having lung cancer: a fast, non-invasive screening that can detect lung cancer before symptoms ever start. I reached out to Julian Guitron, MD, thoracic surgeon, to learn more.
What does lung screening entail?
Dr. Guitron: Lung cancer screening involves a yearly CT scan (fancy x-ray) for people between the ages 50-77 in the high-risk population. This is for those who have had 20 years of smoking one pack-per-day or equivalent. Then, whenever something is discovered, further testing is determined by a group of specialists who discuss the best next step.
Who should get the lung screening?
Dr. Guitron: Smokers 50 years or older who have an accumulated 20 years of smoking one pack-per-day or equivalent (for example, someone who has had 10 years of smoking two packs-per-day).
What can people expect during the screening?
Dr. Guitron: The low-dose CT scan (LDCT) lasts less than 30 seconds and doesn't involve any pokes or needles. It takes longer for the patients to get situated on the CT table than it takes to acquire the images.
How new is this technology?
Dr. Guitron: CT scanners have been around for decades, but over the past 10 years, the ability to obtain high-quality images with a reasonably low-dose of radiation is what has allowed the lung cancer screening program to become a reality.
How life-saving is the screening?
Dr. Guitron: The index trial showed at least a 20 percent decrease in lung-cancer-specific mortality (death). The trial was stopped early, as it was felt it would be unethical to continue the trial having shown such a significant difference between the patients who were screened with LDCT compared to plain x-ray. Last month, a major European trial was published, demonstrating a 24 percent lung cancer-specific decrease in mortality. These are the best results seen of any other screening program to date. Too often, by the time patients experience the symptoms of lung cancer, the cancer has progressed to far to be treated. This screening tool allows us to detect cancer long before symptoms appear, making it much more treatable.
Is the screening covered by insurance? If not, what is the cost?
Dr. Guitron: Yes, CMS (Medicare) approves and covers lung cancer screening as long as the programs satisfy specific requirements. By law, once Medicare recommends a screening program, private insurance has to follow suit, so patients who meet the criteria are covered at no cost, like screening mammography or colonoscopy. Patients who don't meet criteria (perhaps because they are younger than the screening age) would have to pay for the initial lung CT out-of-pocket. We offer a low-cost screening, which is around $200.
With vaping becoming so popular with younger people, should they consider lung screening?
Dr. Guitron: Unfortunately the lung screening program is specifically targeted to adult smokers (combustion cigarettes). At this time, vaping wouldn't qualify. Vaping was introduced to the US market 13 years ago, so most users are young individuals by the numbers. Vaping places patients at a new kind of risk, much of which is unknown in the long-term at this point. Terms such as "popcorn lung" have been used, but lung illness is not yet well-defined. Given the mortality (death) crisis from last year, vaping lung injury has been better defined, and is referred to as EVALI (e-cigarette/vaping acute lung injury). This illness can present itself in patients who are vaping for the first time ever.
When it comes to smoking, the best advice is to never start. Unfortunately, sometimes that ship has sailed, so to speak, and the next best thing is to manage the associated risks. Thanks to advancements in technology and medicine in general, lifelong smokers now have a chance to get out ahead of potential health problems.
If you or someone you love falls in the high-risk category, schedule a lung screening today; it could save a life!
Click to learn more about Dr. Guitron.