To learn if you qualify for the lung CT scan or for information on smoking cessation, call Juli Aistars, APN and certified tobacco treatment specialist, at 847.618.6575.
It's in the back of every longtime smoker's mind, curling tendrils of fear and doubt, a thought made stronger with every puff: do I have lung cancer and not know it?
Luckily, Northwest Community Hospital can allay some of those fears with the introduction of a low-dose CT scan used to screen high-risk smokers for lung cancer, with the hope of catching it early. Unlike a chest X-ray, which provides a two-dimensional view of the lungs, the low-dose CT scan uses technology that creates a 360-degree view of the lungs. That, in turn, provides a level of detail unmatched in conventional chest X-rays.
"The chest X-ray gives you a plain, two-dimensional view of the chest, which includes the lung with all the surrounding structures, such as the heart, bone and soft tissue. Unfortunately, the surrounding structure can mask lung abnormalities," says George Cromydas, MD, a board-certified pulmonologist on the medical staff at NCH. "The low-dose CT of the chest creates a three-dimensional image of the lung, eliminating the masking effect of surrounding structures. This gives you a much, much clearer picture of the lungs enabling one to detect nodules, which would often not be seen on the chest X-ray. This early detection translates into earlier treatment with the potential for improvement in survival."
In fact, a national study of more than 53,000 current and former heavy smokers, conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), found that there were 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths among those people screened with a low-dose CT scan than with chest X-rays. And NCI found there was a 7 percent decrease in deaths from all causes of mortality among those who had a low-dose CT scan. That's because earlier detection means earlier treatment, reducing mortality rates via a more rapid diagnosis.
With the low-dose CT scan, the patient lies on a platform placed within a tube-like structure. That tube contains the diagnostic mechanism, which scans the chest in a spiral, 360-degree fashion, capturing all details while the patient holds his or her breath once for approximately 15 seconds. So the entire procedure is incredibly fast and completely painless.
To qualify for the low-dose CT scan, a smoker must be between 55 and 74 years of age, and have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years. While a smoker doesn't necessarily need a doctor's order to take the test, an NCH advanced practice nurse (APN) will evaluate prospects to determine if they would qualify. Currently, the low-dose CT scan is not covered by insurance plans.
According to Dr. Cromydas, this painless procedure shouldn't lull smokers into a false sense of invincibility. "If the scan is normal," he says, "that should not be a green light for them to continue to smoke. The best way to avoid lung cancer still is to never begin smoking in the first place, however quitting now may improve your chances."