April 2011

Low-dose CT Program Targets Early Detection of Lung Cancer

Northwest Community Hospital is one of the first Chicago-area hospitals to launch a program that provides low-dose CT lung screenings to high-risk smokers. The NCH program follows the protocol of the eight-year National Lung Screening Trial, conducted by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network and National Cancer Institute, which recently found that annual CT scans of current and former heavy smokers reduced their risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent due to earlier detection of the disease. The trial involved more than 53,000 people ages 55 to 74 who had smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years. Ex-smokers who had quit within the previous 15 years were included in the group.

“Our program includes similar patient eligibility guidelines,” says NCH pulmonologist George Cromydas, MD. “Participants get a low-dose CT scan of the chest, which provides a 360-degree view of the lungs and can help us detect nodules that are not usually seen on the more conventional chest X-ray.”

Dr. Cromydas explains that prior to the National Lung Screening Trial, no screening method had consistently proved effective in reducing mortality from lung cancer. The new research indicates that CT scans detect lung tumors at an earlier stage than a chest X-ray, which can in turn lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes. “The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 200,000 Americans die from lung cancer each year,” he adds. “Programs such as the one we have created at NCH help longtime smokers do something that will give them useful information about their pulmonary health overall, and which may even lead to earlier detection of lung cancer. I believe this has the potential to transform evaluation for lung cancer, much in the way that mammography changed screening for breast cancer.”

Juli Aistars, RN, APN, is coordinating the Lung CT Scan program. “Participants will also receive a spirometry test to assess their overall pulmonary health, and may then be referred for treatment for asthma or COPD.” Aistars emphasizes that smoking cessation is an important component of the Lung CT Scan program. A certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (TTS), Aistars encourages NCH physicians to refer smokers for a consultation, even if they are not eligible for the lung cancer screening. “This new program offers a great opportunity for our physicians to initiate a conversation about the effects of smoking and the importance of a non-smoking lifestyle,” she says. “We encourage all patients who are, or have been, longtime smokers to contact us for information abut the lung cancer screening program. I would emphasize that all patients who smoke, whether they opt for the screening or not, can take advantage of our outstanding, free-of-charge, results-oriented smoking cessation program.”

For more information or to refer a patient, please contact Juli Aistars at 847.618.6575.