Giving Patients A Fighting Chance Against Lung Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

While cure rates for many other types of lung cancer have improved, progress in the early detection and treatment of lung cancer is barely moving forward.

"The track record for treating and curing lung cancer in the U.S. is dismal," said Dennis Breen M.D. of Sacramento HeartScan. "In the last 30 years, the five-year survival rate has only increased from about 6 percent to around 15 percent. We've got to do better than that."

Breen said survival rates won't get better until the medical community starts taking advantage of new technology -- such as the 64-slice CT scanner -- that can look for cancer before people show outward signs and symptoms.

The 64-slice CT scanner at Sacramento HeartScan, the GE LightSpeed VCT, was the first of its kind available to patients in the Sacramento region, and is one of only two such scanners in the area. 64-slice CT combines X-rays with the latest computer technology to obtain very thin digital images of the human body.


Patients are typically only referred for CT lung scans if they have symptoms indicative of possible cancer, and The American Cancer Society is currently neutral on its guidance for precautionary lung cancer screening. However, for smokers, those exposed to second-hand smoke and an increasing number of female non-smokers, Breen emphasizes that waiting until lung cancer symptoms develop is a losing strategy.

In the largest study of its kind so far, the Early Lung Cancer Action Program recently screened more than 30,000 smokers, former smokers and people exposed to second-hand smoke. Researchers discovered that lung cancer caught at an early stage by CT screening could be cured at a remarkably high rate. The results were reported in the October 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Lung cancer is most curable when it is detected early; it's time for the integration of advanced CT lung screening into the nation's health care system," noted Breen. "We're just waiting for the mainstream medical community to catch up with the technology."

Until then, Sacramento area residents concerned about their lungs but unable to obtain a referral from their physician can choose to pay out-of-pocket for a CT lung screening. The cost is about $349.00.

The CT lung scan is recommended for patients at increased risk of lung cancer, including smokers, former smokers, people who have been exposed to second-hand smoke, anyone who has been a smoker themselves, and those with a history of tuberculosis or pneumonia, or a strong family history of lung cancer.