Medical Moment: Early scans for cancer

It is estimated that more than 225,000 people will be told they have lung cancer this year, and out of that amount only 15-percent will live five years with the disease. Now new technology is helping doctors find possible problems earlier than ever before.

Jack Meduna knows all about guts. He was a cop for 34 years and dedicated his life to protecting others. Now, it is time for Jack to protect himself.

"I'm not proud to say, but I've been smoking for 50 some odd years,” says Meduna.

Smoking is exactly the reason why Jack was one of the first to get a low-dose CT scan to check for signs of lung cancer.

Dr. David Madtes works for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and says, “A cancer as small as one centimeter can be detected, so that’s about a half of an inch.”

X-Rays can only detect tumors that are larger than one inch, and regular CT scans can put patients at risk for developing other cancers by exposing them to eight units of radiation per scan. But, with low-dose scans, exposure can drop to two units of radiation.

According to Dr. Madtes, "It's about the amount of exposure we all have to atmospheric radiation over the course of one year."

Detecting lung cancer at its earliest stage and having it removed means a person can expect a 70-percent survival rate.

After his scan, Jack said "...the report said there's no signs of problem in my lungs." Now Jack can focus on getting healthy and staying that way.

Low-dose CT scanners are now more available to the general public. The American College of Chest Physicians and the American Society of Clinical Oncology now both recommend people at high risk of developing lung cancer, including heavy smokers, be screened with the scanner.

Research Summary

TOPIC: CATCHING LUNG CANCER EARLY: A LIFE-SAVING SCANNER
REPORT: 3568

BACKGROUND: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States in men and women, but it is also one of the most preventable. Four out of five cases are associated with cigarette smoking and the cause-effect relationship has been historically documented. In the 1920s, large numbers of men started smoking cigarettes. Twenty years later, the number of lung cancer patients in men increased extensively. In the 1940s, women began to smoke. Twenty years later, there was a similar increase in lung cancer in women. (Source: www.webmd.com)

CAUSES: Tumors in the lungs usually start in the spongy, pinkish gray walls of the bronchi airways. There are twenty types of cancerous tumors that start in the lung itself. Close to 85% of lung cancer is caused by smoking. People who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day are 20 times more likely than a nonsmoker to develop lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is also deadly. Approximately 3,000 people die each year from lung cancer associated with secondhand smoke. Other cancerous substances can cause lung cancer if inhaled over time. For example, workers exposed to uranium dust, asbestos, or radioactive gas radon are more likely to develop cancer. However, it can also depend on each person's genetics. Lung cancer can run in some families, therefor, suggesting that it can be inherited. Certain genetic traits have been identified that make people more likely than others to cancerous substances like tobacco. (Source: www.webmd.com)

DIAGNOSIS: Once lung cancer begins to cause symptoms, it is usually visible through an X-ray. However, According to the American Cancer Society, saliva, music, and chest X-rays are not proved particularly effective in detecting small tumors. Annual chest X-rays are not recommended. On occasion mucus and lung fluid exams can reveal fully developed cancer cells; diagnosis is usually confirmed through a lung biopsy. If the biopsy confirms lung cancer, other tests will determine the type of cancer. If fluid is in the lining of the lung, then the doctor can remove the fluid through a needle (thoracentesis) and it could help to diagnose cancer. Sixty percent of the time the fluid tests negative, but if it is positive then a procedure called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery may also be administered to examine the lung for tumors. Sometimes a CT scan of the chest can be performed for a more detailed exam. There have been clinical trials to study screening through a CT scan. In one study, over 31,000 people were screened with a CT scan and 1.5% (484 people) discovered they had lung cancer. CT scan screening does, however, increase the risk of radiation exposure and development of radiation related cancers. Also there is a high incidence of false positive results. (Source: www.webmd.com)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: CT scanning has been questionable for some researchers, but a low-dose CT scan has revamped the idea. Several observational studies have shown that low-dose CT scans of the lung detects more nodules and lung cancers, including early-stage cancers, than chest radiography does. The National Cancer Institute funded the National Lung Screening Trial to determine if low-dose CT screening compared to chest radiography would reduce mortality from lung cancer among people in a high risk category. In 2010, the study found that there was a significant reduction with low-dose CT screening in the rates of death from lung cancer and death from any cause. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine) Patients who benefitted had the following characteristics: they were between the ages of 55 and 74, current smokers or quit within the last 15 years, and they smoked 30 or more packs a year. There is a high likelihood that the screening exam will not be a covered benefit of insurance companies. The out-of-pocket cost for the CT screen is $300. (Source: www.seattlecca.org)
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Dean Forbes
Media Relations Manager
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
(206) 667-2896
dforbes@fhcrc.org

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Andrew McIntosh at amcintosh@ivanhoe.com.


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