At Singing River Health System, we now have a multi-modality approach to not only treating lung cancer, but lung cancer screenings as well. In 2010, multiple institutions performed a national lung cancer screening study, and they randomized patients who are thought to be at high risk, such as long term smokers, those who smoke a number of cigarettes per day, and primarily the length of time in the age of over 50.
Historically, lung cancer has been diagnosed by looking at chest x-rays, so this study randomized the high-risk group between CT scans with low radiation and chest x-rays. There was a significant increase in the number of early cancers picked up by the CT scan. This led numerous places across the United States to start what are called lung cancer screening programs, where these patients are identified by their primary care physicians or family practitioners as being high risk, and they’re sent into one of our centers for lung cancer screening where they undergo a low radiation CT scan. The early lesions, early spots in the lungs that are thought to be lung cancers, are diagnosed by a multitude of other tests including a pet scan and possibly a bronchoscopy or a navigational bronchoscopy. This is where we go into the lung through the air way and biopsy those spots. Those are all low invasive and non-invasive ways to diagnose lung cancer.
It’s estimated that we can save an additional 13 million patients with lung cancer by early diagnosis. The problem is we don’t get the patient in the early stage of stage one where it’s just a spot. We get them in stage two, where the lymph nodes in the lung are involved or even stage three when the lymph nodes outside the lung, but inside the chest, are involved. If we can diagnose someone when it’s just a spot on the lung, and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate is much greater.