“The early detection of lung cancer is key to treating this deadly disease,” says Douglas Frenia, MD, the pulmonologist who heads the hospital’s new Healthy Lung Screening Program. “Making the diagnosis at an early stage allows for a greater variety of treatment options and an improved chance for a cure.”
How It Is Done
The screening is recommended for patients who meet the following criteria:
• Age 55-74
• 30-pack-a-year history of smoking
• 1 pack/day for 30 years
• 2 pack/day for 15 years
• Current smoker or previous smoker who has quit within the past 15 years
• No previous diagnosis of lung cancer
At Saint Peter’s the latest technology makes it possible to provide the lowest dose scan available with levels of almost 40 percent lower than other scanning technology. The hospital’s new state-of-the-art low-dose GE VCT scanner features advanced computer software that produces high resolution images while reducing radiation dosage. The advantages of using this technology are obvious – the low-dose CT screening enables physicians to see the inside of the human body in such sharp focus that doctors are able to diagnose the disease at its earliest stages, increasing a patient’s chances for curative treatment and long-term survival.
“Low dose CT lung screening is quick and easy for the patient,” says Nancy Pingitore, Registered Radiation Therapy Technologist (RTT), the program’s patient navigator. “The radiation exposure is only about 10 percent of that for a conventional CT scan.” Patients make the appointment with the patient navigator. Upon arrival on the day of the screening, a CT technologist escorts the patient to the room where the scanner is housed. The scan only takes a few minutes, and as is customary during such a diagnostic test, patients are asked to lie still and sometimes hold their breath as the machine captures images. During the scan, the CT technologist remains steps away, monitoring the scan through a window, talking to the patient via an intercom system.
Once the scan is completed and read, results are provided to the patient and to the patient’s primary care physician. The patient navigator remains a guide throughout the process and coordinates all the recommended steps made by Saint Peter’s expert panel of physicians who can provide follow-up care and recommendations specific to the patient’s healthcare needs.
Along with Dr. Frenia and Pingitore, the program team includes a nurse practitioner, a thoracic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist, and breast surgeon.
Usually symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the disease is already in an advanced, non-curable stage. Even when symptoms of lung cancer do appear, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as a respiratory infection or the long-term effects from smoking. This may delay the diagnosis.
Cancer is the deadliest disease in the United States, second only to heart disease. Among cancers, the disease of the lungs is the leading cause of death among men and women. Until now, however, screenings were recommended for cancers such as breast, colon and prostate, making it difficult to diagnose lung cancer in its early stages when treatment options are often best.
Because there has been a significant increase in lung cancer for women, mostly related to smoking, the program is a multidisciplinary collaboration that includes the Saint Peter’s Breast Center. As part of the collaboration, a research study - “Low-Dose Computed Tomography (CT) Screening for Women who are at High Risk for Lung Cancer” - will focus on evaluating women who are at high risk for developing lung cancer over their lifetime.
The National Lung Screening Trial of the National Cancer Institute reported that one life among those of every 320 high-risk persons screened was saved using low-dose CT scanning over a two-year period, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in the lung-cancer-specific mortality rate when compared to diagnosis as a result of chest X-rays. The study included more than 50,000 people aged 55 to 74 who were current or former smokers and were in fairly good health. People in the study got either three LDCT scans or three chest X-rays, each a year apart, to look for abnormal areas in the lungs that might be cancer.
Based on the results of the trial, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Cancer Society issued recommendations calling for high-risk individuals to undergo annual low-dose CT screening.
Most private insurers and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services do not currently reimburse for low-dose CT screening. Saint Peter’s, however, charges a nominal rate of $99 per screening.
“At Saint Peter’s our comprehensive approach to lung care ensures that each patient receives the support, expertise and services to meet their unique needs, including smoking cessation coordination, rehabilitation services and cutting-edge treatment options,” says Dr. Frenia.
For more information, questions or to participate in our Healthy Lung Screening Program contact Nancy Pingitore, RTT, patient navigator, at 732-339-7747. Screenings may be scheduled between the hours of 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday.
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