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Finally A Good Way To Screen For Lung Cancer

Doctors at The Iowa Clinic are using low-dose CT (computed tomography) scans to screen for lung cancer, which can mean detecting it in its earliest, most treatable stages.


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Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Lung cancer kills more Americans each year than any other type of cancer. In part, that's because symptoms of lung cancer don't usually show up until the cancer has spread, when it is much more difficult to treat. But now, doctors at The Iowa Clinic are using low-dose CT (computed tomography) scans to screen for lung cancer, which can mean detecting it in its earliest, most treatable stages.

Jason Mohr, D.O., a Pulmonologist with The Iowa Clinic, explains that chest X-rays are not effective in early detection or reducing mortality rates in patients with lung cancer.

“A new study shows that low-dose CT scans do improve early detection of nodules in the lungs —with much less radiation exposure and risk to the patient than with traditional CT scans,” Dr. Mohr says.

As a result, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (UPSTF), American Lung Association, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) have all updated their lung cancer screening guidelines to include the low-dose CT scan as a screening tool for high-risk patients. In November, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) joined the fold by approving low-dose CT lung cancer screening for high-risk Medicare recipients until the age of 74.

“Scans that detect nodules in the lungs don't necessarily mean lung cancer,” Mohr adds. “But they do signal a need for additional diagnostic tests, such as biopsies or surgical interventions. Low-dose CT scans are definitely helping us catch and treat lung cancer earlier.”

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment

The NCCN advises patients to only receive lung cancer screening from a facility that uses a multidisciplinary approach.

The Iowa Clinic Pulmonologists work with other Iowa Clinic specialists (including Radiologists and Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons) to evaluate the cancer, determine the best treatment, and assist with managing other existing conditions, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

“Just as primary care providers are integral to patients getting other health screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, they are also integral to patients getting screened for lung cancer,” Mohr says.

“Our goal is always to provide the best possible outcome for each and every patient,” Mohr says.

Should You Be Screened?

Because even low doses of radiation exposure carry some risk, only current or former smokers who are at high risk for lung cancer should receive the screening.

These individuals are:

  • Between the ages of 55 and 74 with a smoking history of 30 pack-years (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, 3 packs a day for 10 years, etc.) —  even if they quit smoking within the last 15 years; OR
  • Over age 50 with a smoking history of 20 pack-years (one pack a day for 20 years; 2 packs a day for 10 years; etc.) and one or more additional risk factors (radon exposure, occupational exposure, cancer history, family history of lung cancer, COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, and/or symptoms of lung cancer).

If you are at high risk for lung cancer, talk to your primary care provider about whether a low-dose CT scan screening is recommended for you. If you do not have a primary care provider, call The Iowa Clinic at (515) 875-9000.

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