Exciting new developments in the detection of lung cancer

December 29, 2014 By Noa Mencher, RN, BSN, MPA

One of the reasons lung cancer has had such a high mortality rate is that it has traditionally been a difficult form of cancer to detect in its early stages. But that is changing rapidly, thanks to new research showing that low-dose CT scans can detect lung cancer in its early stages.

In response, low-dose CT scan screening programs are being adopted at hospitals and healthcare systems across the country. The cancer program where I work – the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) – was one of the first healthcare organizations in the state to provide free lung cancer screenings, and the program is already making a difference.

Across our Institute – which includes cancer centers at HOCC, MidState Medical Center, Hartford Hospital, Backus Hospital and Windham Hospital – we have screened more than 700 people for lung cancer over the past year. At least seven of them have screened positive for lung cancer, and those patients credit the screening program for saving their lives. Nationwide, it's expected that screening will save more than 20,000 lives.

There's even more good news in that the national Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has adopted a plan to cover all costs for low-dose CT scan lung cancer screenings beginning next year – just as costs are currently covered for mammograms and colonoscopies. Although hospitals such as ours provide screenings free of cost for those who meet the eligibility requirements, the proposal to have Medicare cover all costs for patients across the country will only improve our collective efforts to reduce lung cancer mortality.

The eligibility requirements for those who should be screened are as follows:
• Be a current or former smoker (former smokers having quit within the last 15 years)
• Be between the ages of 55 and 74 and healthy enough to undergo treatment, if needed
• Have a smoking history of at least 30 “pack-years” (one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
• Have not been treated for any kind of cancer within the past five years
• Be between 50 and 74 with a 20 pack-year smoking history and a secondary risk factor (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, family history of lung cancer, certain occupational exposures)

If you meet these criteria, I encourage you to contact our lung cancer screening hotline at (860) 224-LUNG. That number will connect you to caregivers at both the New Britain and Southington (Bradley Memorial) campuses of HOCC.

Noa Mencher, RN, BSN, MPA, is an oncology nurse navigator specializing in lung cancer at The Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 800.321.6244 or online, www.thocc.org.