PARKERSBURG - Local hospitals are preparing or already offering ways for current and former heavy smokers to follow new recommendations for annual lung cancer screenings.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel that makes recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems, recently said people who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or an equivalent amount (like two packs a day for 15 years), should have low-dose CT scans of their lungs each year.
Camden Clark Medical Center in 2013 introduced a program to provide low-cost lung cancer screenings to high-risk individuals, based on guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and results from the National Cancer Institute's National Lung Screening Trial. The latter study, published in 2011, showed a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer death in patients who were screened by low-dose CT scans for three years, according to an article by thoracic surgeon Dr. Roman Petrov in the hospital's bi-monthly Lifetime Partners newsletter.
"Lung cancer is so prevalent in our area," said Tim Brunicardi, director of marketing and public affairs for Camden Clark. "Like so many cancers, early detection is really the key."
Among men and women combined, lung cancer is the most prevalent type treated at Camden Clark's Community Comprehensive Cancer Center, said Reinnie Leavitt, center director.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, said Dr. Robert McKinley, pulmonologist with the Memorial Health System.
Lung Cancer Screenings
* The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screenings for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults age 55 to 80 who have a 30-pack-a-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
* Screening should be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery.
* Camden Clark Medical Center last year developed an assessment to help determine whether individuals age 50 and older should be screened for lung cancer.
* The Memorial Health System is developing a low-cost screening program.
* Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing nearly 160,000 Americans a year.
Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Camden Clark Medical Center.
"There are more deaths from lung cancer than there are from colon, breast and prostate (cancer) combined," he said.
In its earliest stages, lung cancer is asymptomatic, McKinley said. By the time symptoms appear, the disease is "largely uncurable," he said. Nearly 90 percent of people with lung cancer die of it, according to the task force statement.
"Lung cancer screening may provide an opportunity to reach these patients at a point in their disease that they can still be cured," McKinley said.
In anticipation of the new recommendation, Memorial has been working to develop an affordable lung cancer screening program of its own, expected to be rolled out this year, McKinley said. It would expand on the health system's lung nodule clinic, which focuses on people who have possible tumors discovered on scans for other health issues.
Camden Clark's screening costs $99, and Memorial's is expected to be in that range as well. The American Lung Association places the cost usually at between $300 and $500.
The screenings are not currently covered by insurance, but Leavitt said patients can pay up front then seek a reimbursement from their insurer. Officials with Camden Clark and Memorial both anticipate the screenings becoming a covered service in the near future.
To help determine whether a person is at a higher risk for lung cancer, the hospital developed an assessment questionnaire, asking about an individual's personal smoking history, exposure to secondhand smoke, health history and exposure to other risk factors, like radon. However, smoking is the greatest risk factor, Leavitt said.
"A cure for lung cancer would be great, but if we can stop people from smoking, we can knock the numbers way low," she said.
The assessments are available at the hospital and at area doctors' offices. In addition, someone can have one sent to them by calling 304-424-2854.
If a person is at least 50 years old and checks "yes" on at least two of the assessment's seven questions, they should consider a lung screening, it says. The first step is to call and speak with a patient navigator, who will discuss the assessment and help determine whether a screening is needed.
"We don't want people to have unnecessary exams," Leavitt said.
The task force statement notes there are risks to the screenings, including false-positives. It says 95 percent of all positive results do not lead to a diagnosis of cancer. In some cases, the tumors may be so small and slow-growing they would not affect a patient in his or her lifetime.
Another risk is cumulative radiation from even low-dose CT scans raising the risk of cancer. Camden Clark's scans are considered low-dose, and Memorial is installing equipment at its Marietta and Belpre locations to use lower doses as well.