Detecting Cancer Early with Diagnostic Radiology
In the late 1990s, doctors and scientists began investigating if lung cancer could be detected using low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scans. CT scans use x-rays and computer processing to create detailed images. Their research found low-dose CT was much better than standard x-rays at detecting lung cancer, especially in the early stages.
From 2002 to 2009, the National Lung Screening Trial enrolled more than 53,000 participants across the United States. That study discovered low-dose CT scans lowered lung cancer death rates by 20%. In 2012, Owensboro Health was one of the first hospitals in Kentucky to participate in a similar statewide trial.
Today, low-dose CT screenings are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid for patients who meet the following criteria established by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force:
- Current smokers or smokers who quit within the last 15 years.
- Those who meet the 30 pack- year requirement.
- This calculation takes the number of packs per day for a smoker and multiplies it by how long they smoked. A 30 pack- year history would mean an individual smoked one pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, and so on.
- Those who are 55-80 years of age.
Dr. Patrick Padgett
Dr. Patrick Padgett, a diagnostic radiologist with Owensboro Health, said that early diagnosis of any cancer is key. Before low-dose CT scans, there was no effective way to screen for lung cancer. Now that low-dose CT is being used, more cancers will be detected early.
"I think you'll see the numbers streamline into the best possible outcomes for current smokers, former smokers and people affected by smoking," Dr. Padgett said. "As we get more people in the system, we'll find cancers that are smaller and see fewer advanced cases."
Colleen Brey, RN, the nurse navigator for lung cancer screenings, said Owensboro Health is already seeing that trend. In 2018, the center is projected to do more than 1,000 screenings – including new patients and follow-ups. As of October 31, 2018, 20 cases had been diagnosed, and 16 of those were detected early (in Stage I or II).
“These are patients who would otherwise have come in with late-stage cancer. It’s so encouraging to see this happening,” Brey said. “We’re screening more patients, finding more cancers and saving lives. A lot of these patients, with early-stage cancer, they have surgery only. The majority of them don’t need chemotherapy or radiation. That’s huge.”
“The more people that survive, that’s a greater number of people in the pipeline coming and saying, ‘Help me. Am I in good shape or do I need more treatment?’” Dr. Padgett said.