By Jean Comeau, RN, BSN, Nurse Navigator for Harrington HealthCare’s Lung Cancer Screening Program
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of cancer deaths, even among non-smokers. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available) more than 221,000 new cases of lung cancer were reported in the U.S. and nearly 146,000 people died of the disease. Here in Massachusetts, there were more than 5,000 new cases of lung cancer reported that same year.
Because lung cancer is so common and also the most common cause of cancer-related death, it’s important to know what the risk factors are, and to get screened on a yearly basis if you have certain risk factors. Here’s what you need to know…
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
Risk factors for lung cancer include:
The EPA classifies our region of Worcester County, Massachusetts, as a high-radon area. You should have the radon levels in your home tested. If they are found to be high, there are radon-mitigation systems that can be installed to clear the radon from your living environment. You can find more information about radon testing and mitigation in Massachusetts at gov/service-details/radon-get-the-facts.
Lung Cancer Screening: Who Should Be Screened and When
By the time most lung cancers are detected as a result of symptoms alone, the cancer has usually spread widely and advanced to a stage that is much more difficult to treat or cure. But with screening for those who are at most at risk, lung cancer can be found at earlier stages, when it is more treatable and more likely to be cured.
Low-dose computed tomography (also known as a low-dose CT scan or LDCT) is the only recommended screening test for the early detection of lung cancer. In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) set out recommendations for who should receive yearly lung cancer screening.
People who meet ALL of the following criteria should be screened annually:
Just this past July, the USPSTF released a draft of new recommended guidelines for lung cancer screening that in the future could expand eligibility for screening to people as young as 50 (instead of the current minimum age of 55) with a 20 pack-year history of smoking (instead of the current 30 pack-year history).
Lung Cancer Screening: How to Get Screened and What to Expect
In 2015, Harrington HealthCare joined a growing list of organizations across the nation offering an Early Detection Lung Cancer Screening Program and in 2019 the program earned Accreditation by the American College of Radiology. In addition, Harrington’s Cancer Center has been designated a Lung cancer Alliance Center of Excellence for two years in a row. Since the program’s inception, Harrington has performed over 5,000 lung cancer screenings.
Our comprehensive program brings the patient together with his or her physician and radiologists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for the screening. If an abnormality is found, the program engages oncologists and pulmonologists to help in the diagnosis and, if necessary, collaborate on an individualized plan of care.
If you are concerned about your risk for lung cancer, talk with your primary care physician to see if you are a candidate for our Early Detection Screening Program. A physician referral is required, but most insurance plans cover this screening for eligible individuals. To learn more, call (508) 765-3024.
If your PCP recommends a lung cancer screening, here is what you can expect…
Step 1: The Screening
A lung cancer screening consists of a CT scan that allows physicians to look at a detailed picture of your lungs to detect any abnormalities. A CT scan is the only proven, effective way to screen for lung cancer.
The identified highest, at-risk patient population who should be screened are those who:
Low-dose CT scans expose people to an extremely low level of radiation. The test is painless and takes less than 10 minutes to complete.
Step 2: Results and Follow-Up
Lung scans are categorized as RAD 1 to RAD 4, with 1 being negative and 4 being highly suspicious with additional testing(s) recommended. In 2019, Harrington performed over 1,400 early detection lung cancer screenings.
If your results show an abnormality, you will meet with your doctor who will discuss the findings and the next steps in your individualized care plan. As with any screening test, there is the possibility of a false positive result. Abnormal findings may require additional testing.
Jean Comeau, RN, BSN, is an interventional radiology nurse and the nurse navigator for Harrington’s Lung Screening Program in Southbridge. For questions regarding the program, call (508) 765-3024.