Test helps longtime smokers detect cancer

A low-dose CT lung cancer screening creates a detailed 3D picture of the lungs. 

CUMBERLAND — The Western Maryland Health System is seeing success with a test that can help patients who have a long history of smoking.

Until recently, the process has remained largely unknown to both patients and doctors across the country. “It’s gradually ramping up, and we’ve had success with this. It’s important that people know that this is out there and that it can make a difference,” said Dr. Michael Dwyer of the Radiology Department. 

Low-dose CT lung cancer screenings, often referred to as LDCT, are much more sensitive than traditional chest X-rays. The test serves the same purpose as a mammogram or colonoscopy — to detect cancer at an early stage.

“The test is a way of screening patients with a heavy smoking history for early detection of lung cancer,” said Dwyer. “The earlier it is detected, the more options there are to treat and potentially cure.”

The screenings are designed for patients who are between the ages of 55 and 80 and have a 30-year or more pack-year history (the number of years the patient has smoked multiplied by how many packs a day they have smoked). LDCT is for patients who have no clinical signs of lung cancer. If there are clinical signs of lung cancer, a diagnostic CT of the chest is required.

“Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in men and women across the country,” Dwyer said. “In the past, a regular chest X-ray was used for screening, which is not nearly as sensitive. Compared to an LDCT, it’s a night-and-day difference regarding the information obtained.”

The test takes about 10 minutes, and no needles or medicine are required. An LDCT scan creates a detailed 3D picture of the lungs. While the scan will expose a patient to a low-dose of radiation, LDCT uses 75% less radiation than a traditional CT scan and shows more detail than a standard chest X-ray. An LDCT scan is the only method recommended for lung cancer screening.

The American College of Radiology recently created a new standard for LDCT screenings that has resulted in fewer false positives and unnecessary follow-up scans and procedures.

Once ordered by the patient’s doctor, the screening should be done yearly until the age of 80, and patients who have quit smoking within the last 15 years are still encouraged to have the screening performed.

A patient needs a referral from a primary care provider or another practitioner to have the scan performed at the WMHS Lung Cancer Screening Center, which is nationally accredited by the American College of Radiology.

The tests are scheduled at the WMHS Outpatient Diagnostic Center at the WMHS Administrative Complex weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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