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Getting lung cancer screening sooner rather than later

(WJRT)
Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 10:52 AM EDT
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(06/02/2020) -- One hundred thirty-five thousand Americans will die this year from lung cancer. The American Lung Association and The American Thoracic Society say as many as 25,000 could be saved annually through lung cancer screening with low dose CT scans.

But according to some studies, only five percent of individuals who qualify go through the screening. And, smokers may not be aware they have a screening option.

Seventy-four-year old Jewel Tucker tries to eat right. She avoids salt and sees her doctor regularly. But she admits her main health vice was a big one … smoking.

“I started when I was 14 years old,” Tucker told Ivanhoe.

Last March, Jewel’s doctor recommended for the first time ever that she be screened for lung cancer even though she felt great and had no symptoms.

“April, they sent me a letter saying that they saw a spot on my left lung, and I needed to come in for test, you know,” continued Tucker.

That spot turned out to be cancer.

Irina Veytsman, MD, Director, Hematology/Oncology, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said, “She underwent surgery, but during her surgery they found that she does have lymph nodes affected by her cancer.”

“They took out 12. Eleven was negative. Only one tested positive. They said I was in stage one,” exclaimed Tucker.

Dr. Veytsman says before the availability of low dose CT scans, there was no accurate way to catch lung cancer early. The American Cancer Society says patients who might benefit from low dose CT screening are between 55 and 74 years old, current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years, or smokers with a 30-pack-year history. A pack year is the number of years smoked multiplied by the number of packs per day.

“Most of the time we diagnose them with stage one or stage two disease, which is curable,” Dr. Veytsman said.

“If that doctor had not referred me, I’d be still smoking cigarettes, and by then I’d be in stage four and probably going away from here,” shared Tucker.

The low dose CT scan is covered by Medicare and most other insurance companies. Researchers say the one drawback is the scans sometimes find other abnormalities that do lead to additional tests. A number of earlier studies looked at chest x-ray as a screening tool, but the x-rays often did not pick up cancer until it was advanced.

The National Lung Cancer screening trial confirmed the benefits of CT scans several years ago.

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