Just a little more than a year ago, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed lung cancer deaths could be significantly reduced when patients with heavy smoking histories but no symptoms received low-dose CT chest scans once a year over a three-year period. The study showed a 20 percent decrease in mortality in patients who received the CT scans compared to those who received chest X-rays.
Since that study came out, medical institutions across the country have begun introducing the screening protocol for patients who fit certain criteria even though insurance companies have not yet incorporated lung cancer screening into their reimbursement programs.
On Monday, July 2, the University of Texas Medical Branch will introduce a new lung cancer screening program at both its Galveston and League City locations. The procedure is painless and takes less than a minute. The cost is $300 at time of service with no insurance reimbursement currently available.
CT lung cancer screening is recommended for people 55 and older who have a significant smoking history -- more than 10 years. It is also recommended for former smokers who quit less than 15 years ago.
UTMB's first lung cancer screening patient was Barbara Garcia, UTMB's residency program manager who is also a mother of two grown daughters and a grandmother of six, all of whom live in Texas City, where Garcia lives as well.
Garcia was recruited as UTMB's first lung cancer screening patient by one of her colleagues, Dr. Maurice Willis, an associate professor in the division of hematology/oncology at UTMB.
Willis knew Garcia had a history of smoking. He told her he was sorry to ask but wondered how old she was. "57," she said. Willis told her she was a perfect test patient for the new screening program. She underwent the procedure in mid-June. Last week she learned that her scan was clear.
"It was a huge relief," she said, "especially since my father died of lung cancer when he was 64. I think it is wonderful that there is a test like this now. I'm so glad it's going to be available to everyone who needs it." The low-dose CT chest scan is a procedure that detects far smaller cancers in far greater detail than a chest X-Ray. The images are 3D, so tinier lung tumors can be detected.
"As a radiologist, my role in the lung cancer screening program is to make it painless, fast and diagnostic for our patients," said Dr. Eric Walser, director of interventional radiology and executive vice chair of radiology at UTMB." To reduce anxiety and delays, we plan to interpret the study and inform the patient of the results as soon as the CT is completed," said Walser.
Lung cancer is typically so deadly because patients usually do not experience any symptoms until the cancer is at such an advanced stage it cannot be treated successfully.
When lung cancer is found at its earliest stages through screening however, survival rates are very high.
For patients in whom small lung cancers are detected, UTMB offers a wide range of minimally invasive treatments, including thoracoscopic tumor removal, laser ablation therapy and stereotactic (focused) radiation therapy.
Patients interested in signing up for the CT chest screening at UTMB can call (409) 747-0100
or email Dr. Walser