Salem Cancer Institute is taking a preemptive approach to lung cancer in our community by launching a new lung cancer screening program designed to help catch the disease in its early stages and save lives. The pilot program launched on Jan. 14 and includes a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan, education and results tracking. Patients may also have the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial or an optional smoking cessation program.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States taking more than 166,000 lives annually. Unfortunately over 75 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at stage III or IV — when five-year survival rates drop to less than 15 percent. If diagnosis can happen at an earlier stage through screenings, such as those offered by Salem Cancer Institute, there is a much higher chance the patient can be cured with appropriate treatment.
“We have screening programs for breast, prostate and colon cancer, so it only made sense to offer a screening program for lung cancer when it is currently responsible for more deaths each year than prostate, breast, colon and pancreatic cancer combined,” said Tasha McDonald, MD, co-chair of Salem Cancer Institute’s lung cancer screening program and member of the thoracic oncology committee. “The goal of any cancer screening program is to detect cancer at an earlier stage, when it is potentially curable and that’s certainly the case for our lung cancer screening program. Early detection of lung cancer means we can potentially save lives in our community.”
The LDCT has been shown to be the most effective screening method for lung cancer. Results of a National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) sponsored by the National Institute of Health in June 2011 showed that high-risk patients screened yearly with a low-dose cat scan had a 20 percent lower chance of dying of lung cancer than those screened with a chest x-ray. In addition, patients found to have the earliest stage of cancer (stage I), increased from 21 to 40 percent.
To participate in the program, a patient must meet eligibility requirements which include being in the 55 to 74 age range with a minimum of 30 pack-years of smoking (“pack-years” equals the number of packs per day multiplied by the number of years smoked), is a current smoker or has quit within the last 15 years and has no symptoms of a lung condition or a history of lung cancer. There are risks and benefits to all cancer screening programs and a lung cancer screening may not be right for all eligible patients.
The $99 program cost includes an LDCT scan, education and follow-up. While most insurance plans do not currently cover lung cancer screenings, scholarships are available thanks to the Salem Hospital Foundation for those who meet the screening criteria but can’t afford the $99 charge.
A significant amount of the program costs are also being absorbed by Salem Cancer Institute in order to provide a groundbreaking program that will have a direct impact on the effects of lung cancer in our community. Lung cancer is the most preventable type of cancer with one life saved for every 320 screened, as compared to one life saved for every 1,500 screened for breast cancer with mammography. With approximately 15,000 people (three percent of the population) in the Salem and surrounding area who fit the screening criteria, this lung cancer screening program has the potential to save 46 lives right in our own community.