Are you a smoker? Worried about lung cancer?

Up until now there has not been any good way to screen a person for lung cancer. In 2011, the National Cancer Institute completed a study of the effectiveness of using low-dose CT for detection of early stage lung cancer. This research shows that low-dose CT scans are more effective than standard chest x-ray at detecting lung cancer nodules - at an early stage - so that the cancer can be effectively treated. This new technology makes it possible to screen for lung cancer.

Over the years, many kinds of lung cancer screening tests have been tried in research studies; however, this is the first that has been effective for reducing the death rate from lung cancer.

Last year, Southwestern Vermont Health Care upgraded its CT scanner and now has the capability to offer low-dose screening to some present and prior smokers who want to know whether they might have lung cancer.

Because health insurance does not cover this service, the hospital and radiologists have agreed to offer it at a very low fee - as a service to the people of this area. This service is being offered to the first 50 people who sign up; the hospital will then determine if the service is of benefit to enough people to make it a regular service.

The low-dose CT screening program is being offered to persons between the age of 55-74 and who have smoked more than 30 pack-years. Interested persons can call 802-447-5541 to schedule an appointment and inquire about possible financial assistance. Another way to arrange for this screening is to talk to your family doctor.

Smoking is the single most significant risk factor for lung cancer.

The test takes about 15 minutes. Your doctor should have the results quickly. The study recommends that screening be completed annually for three years.

Screening does not prevent lung cancer, but it may enable doctors to detect it earlier; helping increase the chances that a person can survive this disease. The research showed a 20 percent reduction in death rates for those people whose lung cancer was identified at an early stage and then treated.

As with any screening program, there are risks that the exam will reveal nodules that are not actually cancer, and people will undergo biopsies in order to determine that. In the NCI study, this was a very small number, but it still does happen.

Our society still has much to learn about the cost effectiveness of screening for lung cancer. Public policy makers will need to analyze all the data to determine whether the benefits outweigh the harms and whether the costs to society prove worthwhile.

I want to emphasize that the single best thing that a person can do to lower the risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking. There is help for smokers. The Blueprint and Vermont Quit Network-Freshstart offers help to find the best resources to make your personalized plan to quit, call (802) 440-4098 or register online at /events.

Dr. Orion Howard is a medical oncologist with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians as well as the medical director for the SVMC Cancer Center. Space is limited for the lung cancer screening. Call today to schedule your appointment or to learn more at 802-447-5541 ext. 2. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.


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