Finally, An Answer for Smokers

  • Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Finally, An Answer for Smokers TRIDENT

Patricia Haines started smoking at age 15, “before they knew it was bad for you,” and had continued off and on with a total of more than 20 years as a smoker.

Concerned that she sometimes felt short of breath, she recently talked to her doctor about a new lung cancer screening offered by Trident Medical Center (TMC), and she's glad she did.

The low-dose computed topography (CT) screening helped pinpoint some potential trouble spots, and while a follow-up scan three months later showed those spots mostly had cleared up, Haines had stopped smoking by then.

“It really encouraged me to start thinking about my health,” says Haines of Goose Creek. “I have no intentions of smoking again.”

Helical CT technology (often called a spiral CT) uses X-rays to obtain a multiple image scan of the chest, making it more effective than traditional, two-dimensional chest X-rays when looking for signs of cancer.

“You are going to get so much more diagnostic information from a CT scan than a chest X-ray,” says Trident Health's Wesley Fox, the PET/CT technologist who oversees the screenings.

A study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute indicated that helical CT scans reduced the mortality rate by 20 percent over traditional X-rays when used to screen current and former smokers. The National Lung Screening Trial involved 53,454 participants, ages 55 to 74, and lasted more than a decade. (Patients received an eighth of the radiation exposure with the low-dose scan than they would have with a conventional CT scan.)

Encouraged by the study's primary results, which were released in 2011, TMC became the first and only hospital in the Charleston area to offer the CT scans for lung cancer.

”Lung cancer is actually a curable disease if you catch it early enough,” says Fox. Yet the disease can be silent for many years before producing noticeable symptoms. “Traditionally, people don't find out they have lung cancer until it's Stage 3 or Stage 4.”

The screenings at TMC are for individuals 50 years or older who do not have symptoms but who may be at risk for lung cancer because of their smoking history or other related risk factors. Interested individuals should obtain a referral from their physician and then call 843-797-8554 to schedule an appointment.

Because this is a screening, and it is for individuals without symptoms but who may be at risk for lung cancer, Medicare and some insurances will cover the cost.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. While Trident Health sees low-dose CT scans as life-saving technology, it also uses the screenings as a way to reach out to the at-risk population of smokers and encourage them to quit, just like Haines did. “It was a big motivator for me,” she says.

“You are going to get so much more diagnostic information from a CT scan than a chest X-ray.” Wesley Fox, PET/CT Technologist, Trident Health

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