Every Breath You Take
For smokers and former smokers, a lung screening program at AAMC can be an early warning life saver.
Of all the scary associations with the word “cancer,” none is scarier than “lung cancer.” And for good reason. More people are found to have lung cancer than any other malignancy except skin cancer. Lung cancer kills more people every year than any other kind of cancer, and claims more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Now, however, a screening program underway at AAMC for people at high risk for lung cancer will offer the early detection benefits that have led to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments for breast, prostate, colon and other kinds of cancer. The Healthy Lung Screening program will encourage smokers and former smokers— those at high risk but who have not experienced symptoms—to undergo CT (Computed Tomography) scans of their lungs.
How To Reduce The Risks Of Smoking: Quit.
Lung cancer has proven so deadly over the years in part because the disease could not be discovered until a mass showed up on a chest X-ray. The dilemma doctors and their patients face is that by the time symptoms appear, or an X-ray detects a mass, the cancer usually has reached a stage that is difficult to treat effectively. An X-ray detects a tumor when it is roughly the size of a lime, whereas a CT scan of the lungs can detect a suspect abnormality (lesion) when it is the size of a pea.
But does undergoing a CT scan screening before symptoms are present actually save lives? Results of a recently concluded clinical trial show conclusively that it does.
(AAMC now offers a similar trial for screening candidates. This program will add to the body of knowledge about the life-saving potential of CT scanning and the early detection of lung cancer. Enrollment in AAMC’s clinical trial is strictly voluntary.)
“The key word is ‘choice,’” said Kenneth Adam Lee, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at AAMC. “Until CT scanning proved its value, many cases of lung cancer were detected when the progression of the disease limited the number of treatment choices. And those choices were often less than ideal.”
“Not every small abnormality detected by a CT scan is destined to become cancer,” he continued. “But seeing an abnormality at an early stage creates options, mostly in the form of continued monitoring with follow-up scans or other tests. The point is that the disease is not going to sneak up on a person. If a detected abnormality is cancerous now or eventually becomes cancerous the outlook is far more encouraging than it would be otherwise.”
Peter Graze, M.D., a medical oncologist who works in the Thoracic Oncology Program at AAMC, said “Waiting for lung cancer to make its presence known or using conventional means of detection has not reduced mortality,” he said. “The weight of the evidence now indicates that a proactive screening and detection program may indeed save lives.”
People whose smoking history places them at risk (see box below) can contact AAMC to arrange a scan. The cost for the scan is $175. Applicants will be referred first to a healthcare professional who will conduct a risk assessment interview. Factors other than smoking history, such as exposure to other carcinogens, lifestyle, and family history will be taken into account as well.
For more information about AAMC’s Healthy Lung Screening Program and to learn whether you are a candidate for CT scan screening, call askAAMC at 443-481-4000, toll-free at 1-800-MD NURSE, or visit www.askAAMC.org.
Who should consider having a CT scan lung screening performed?
Note: Pack-years are calculated by the number of years a person has smoked or did smoke times the number of packs per day. A pack a day for 20 years equals 20 pack years; two packs a day for 10 years also equals 20 pack years.