High-Tech Battle Against Lung Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. among both men and women. Some of the newest technology available for the early detection and treatment of lung cancer is the new 64-slice the GE LightSpeed VCT scanner available at Sacramento HeartScan.

Dennis R. Breen, M.D., F.A.C.C., of the Sacramento Heart and Vascular Institute, which operates Sacramento HeartScan, said that there's a lot of debate surrounding screening of the general population. However, when it comes to high risk populations such as smokers and former smokers, the advanced 64 slice CT could hold the key to finally improving detection and survival rates for lung cancer.

"Lung cancer is the poster child for why screening in high risk populations is important and necessary," said Breen. "We know from published clinical trials that by screening all smokers, for example, cure rates can be as high as 95 percent, but lung cancer is still the only major cancer for which screening is not encouraged, even among those at high risk."

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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. Because lung cancer is rarely found in its early stages, Breen explained it's a much more difficult type of cancer to treat. That's why many patients choose to pay out-of-pocket for the screening procedure.

"Wait-and-see is obviously a losing strategy with lung cancer, and many people instinctively know what so many medical professionals also know: the earlier you find cancer, the more options you have when it comes to treating it," according to Breen.

Even though the U.S. has some of the highest survival rates in the world related to lung cancer compared to other cancers, Breen pointed out that detection and cure rates are dismal. He noted that in the last 30 years, the five-year lung cancer survival rate has only increased from about six percent to around 15 percent.

Recent evidence points to the value of screening high-risk populations. 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.

Breen believes that as more evidence is reviewed, the mainstream medical community will gradually move toward screening of asymptomatic, at-risk patients. 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 $275.00.

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