Lung Cancer Screening: 15 Minutes to Save Your Life!


SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A University of Washington thoracic surgeon fought hard to get Medicare and insurers to pay for lung cancer screenings for smokers. He said succeeding was one of the greatest achievements of his life. The number of eligible people who’ve taken advantage of potential early detection is small so far, but Douglas Wood, MD, said it’s a good start.

Tom Boyle smoked for more than 40 years. Last spring, he went in for a lung cancer screening. This fearless skydiver got news that terrified him.

Boyle told Ivanhoe, “I jump out of airplanes, right? No big deal. But when I heard that diagnosis, I’ve never been so afraid in my life.”

Tom had a small cancerous tumor in his lung. He had surgery with no chemo or radiation, because it was discovered early.

“Lung cancer screenings give us the chance to take people who were previously lung cancer victims and make them lung cancer survivors,” detailed Dr. Wood.

Dr. Wood was on expert panels that convinced Medicare and major insurers to pay for lung cancer screenings for people between 55 and 77, who smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. He’s not disappointed that only two percent of eligible people have taken advantage.

Dr. Woods explained, “I see that 200,000 as a victory. These are people who have the chance of early detection and a chance for cure that they previously wouldn’t have.”

Traditionally, less than 20 percent of lung cancer patients survive. Early detection brings that up to 80 to 85 percent chance of long-term survival. Boyle got that message loud and clear.

Boyle said, “Instead of deciding, OK, where am I going to be buried, how am I going to be buried, you know, all the rest of that nonsense. Now, it’s like, OK, what kind of trips do I want to take, how many more times am I going to get out of an airplane?”

Boyle said the 15 minute screening gave him 20 years of life.

Dr. Wood said educating patients and doctors about the importance of screening drives screening numbers up. He hopes that in five to ten years, lung cancer screenings will be as common as mammograms. Right now, the screenings are only covered for high-risk people. He said although about 15 percent of lung cancer patients are non-smokers, the risks of screening for them outweighs any potential benefit.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer.

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REPORT #2575

BACKGROUND: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, claiming more lives than prostate, ovarian, colon, and breast cancers combined. Smokers have the highest risk of developing lung cancer, but it can also occur in those who have never smoked. Risk of it increases with the length of time and amount of cigarettes smoked. Quitting smoking will reduce your chances of developing lung cancer, even if you have been smoking for many years. At its earliest stage signs and symptoms may not be present, they typically occur only when the disease is advanced. Signs include coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chest pains, hoarseness, weight loss, headache, bone pain and a new cough that doesn’t go away. The two general types of lung cancer include small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Risk factors for lung cancer besides smoking also include exposure to secondhand smoke or radon gas, exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens, and a family history of lung cancer.


SCREENING FOR LUNG CANCER: Currently, the only recommended test to screen for lung cancer is a low-dose CT scan, or a computed tomography. Screening is usually recommended for patients who do not show symptoms but may be at a high risk due to a variety of factors. Doctors will usually suggest screening tests to help find a disease early on, when treatment options may result in better outcomes. During a low-dose CT scan, doctors will use an X-ray machine to create a detailed depiction of a patients’ lungs. The US Preventative Service Task Force recommends patients with a heavy history of smoking, whether currently or in the past 15 years, who are between the ages of 55 and 80 should be screened annually. The term heavy smoking implies a smoking history of 30 pack years or more, this can either mean two packs a day for 15 years or one pack a day for at least 30 years. Lung cancer screenings come with their own risks, including false positive results or over diagnosis; causing doctors to recommend treatment that is not needed. Finally, repeated exposure to the radiation from these tests may cause cancer in otherwise previously healthy patients.


 TREATMENT: Lung cancer treatment will depend on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. Non-small cell can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these methods. People with small cell are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In surgery, doctors will cut out the cancer tissue. Chemotherapy involves shrinking or killing the cancer via special medicines, sometimes given orally or directly into the veins. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays, similar to X rays, to kill the cancer. And targeted therapy also involves drugs but these are given to block the growth or spread of the cancer. It is also possible to get involved in clinical trials, using experimental treatment options to see if they are safe and also effective. Some may also seek alternative medicine.



 * For More Information, Contact:

Douglas E. Wood, MD, FACS, FRCSEd                               Bobbi Nodell, Media Relations

The Henry N. Harkins Professor and Chair                           UW Medicine

Department of Surgery                                                           (206) 543-7129

University of Washington                                              

(206) 685-3228