CT lung cancer screening test for longtime smokers detects patient's tumor before symptoms

Dawn Andersen lost her husband to lung cancer, and as a longtime smoker herself, she also was at high risk for the disease.

So Loyola Medicine pulmonologist Sean Forsythe, MD, recommended Mrs. Andersen undergo a CT lung cancer screening test, which has been shown to save lives among longtime smokers by detecting lung cancer in early stages when it's most treatable.

The CT scan detected a growth in her lung that a later biopsy confirmed was a tumor. Fortunately it was a slow-growing type of cancer (called a typical carcinoid) and it had not spread to her lymph nodes.

Loyola thoracic surgeon James Lubawski, MD, removed the tumor in a minimally invasive procedure called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery. The incisions were less than an inch-long and Mrs. Andersen spent just two days in the hospital.

Mrs. Andersen did not require chemotherapy or radiation.

"Her outlook is great," Dr. Lubawski said.

Since Loyola began offering low-dose CT lung cancer screenings to people at high risk of lung cancer, more than 1,000 smokers and ex-smokers have been screened. Early-stage cancer has been detected in 20 smokers before they experienced symptoms.

Any patient who undergoes CT lung cancer screening at Loyola and who still smokes is counseled on where they can get help to quit. Mrs. Andersen, 73, who smoked for 50 years, successfully quit after her diagnosis.

"It's never too late to quit," Dr. Forsythe said. "For example, quitting between age 55 and 64 can add three years on average to a smoker's life. And the cardiac benefits of quitting begin within three weeks."

Following American Cancer Society guidelines, Loyola offers lung cancer screening for people aged 55 to 77 who are in fairly good health, have smoked the equivalent of at least a pack a day for 30 years and are currently smoking or have quit within the past 15 years.

Loyola performs the gold standard test of lung cancer screening: low-dose spiral CT scan (LDCT scan). An X-ray machine scans the body in a spiral path, and a computer produces highly detailed pictures of the lungs. The procedure uses low-dose radiation and is not recommended for people who are at average risk for lung cancer.

Lung cancer screenings are available at the Loyola Center for Health at Burr Ridge, Loyola Center for Health at Oakbrook Terrace and the Loyola Outpatient Center on Loyola's main campus in Maywood.

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