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Lung Cancer: Early detection is key

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the country. It is the most common cancer worldwide, representing 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses. The most recent study showed that in 2013, Kentucky led the nation with the highest age-adjusted incidence rates for both men and women for lung cancer.

Currently, there are three screening methods for lung cancer: sputum cytology (looks for cancer cells in a patient’s sputum), standard chest x-ray, and low-dose CT scan. While all three methods detect signs of lung cancer, only studies on the low-dose CT scan show an actual reduction in the likelihood of death from the disease. Additionally, the low-dose CT scan poses less risk to the patient than the regular diagnostic chest CT because the radiation exposure is much lower.

In 2011, a study was released by the National Cancer Institute which compared the effectiveness of reducing the mortality rate from lung cancer from standard chest x-rays to that of low-dose CT scans. The decade-long study showed a 20 percent reduction in the death rate from this type of cancer.

Unlike some other cancers, patients with lung cancer typically only begin showing symptoms once the disease is in its later stages and has spread to other areas of the body.

When lung cancer is detected in its earliest stage, the survival rate is 55 percent; however, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed this early. For those found in later stages, the five-year survival rate drops to 4 percent. This is why early-detection lung screening, like low-dose CT, is so important.

In August 2016, Rockcastle Regional Hospital began offering low-dose CT scans. Since then, approximately 300 scans have been performed and 29 have returned test results that are suspicious of cancer. “The national average for suspicious results from low-dose CT scans is 3 percent,” said John Mitchell, director of Radiology at Rockcastle Regional. In this community, we are nearing triple that at 10 percent.

While low-dose CT scan is an excellent screening tool, it is not recommended for everyone. Those who are candidates for this test must meet all of the following “high-risk” criteria:

-55-77 years of age
-30 pack-year history of smoking. (Pack-years are calculated by multiplying the average number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years a person has smoked. Example: 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
-Are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.

If you think you are a candidate for this screening, it is important to note that some insurance plans may not cover this test. It is best to check with your insurance plan for coverage of the screening and for any additional procedures, as there may be other costs associated even if the actual screening is free. The American Lung Association offers a checklist of questions to ask your insurance provider when calling to inquire about the screening. Visit lung.org to learn more.

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