Virginia Hospitals join many in offering Screening for Lung Cancer

Local hospitals are offering low-dose CT scans to smokers to screen for lung cancer.

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Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg, a partnership of Mary Washington Healthcare and Radiologic Associates of Fredericksburg, began a screening program earlier this month. Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center also offers the service.

The low-dose CT scans are aimed at current and former smokers in an attempt to identify cancerous tumors early, when treatment for lung cancer can make a difference. Unfortunately, most cases of lung cancer are not diagnosed until treatment will only extend the number of weeks a person lives instead of eliminating the disease.

The program is available for persons aged 55-75 who have the equivalent of a pack-a-day cigarette habit for 30 years. The imaging costs $325 at Medical Imaging of Fredricksburg and $375 at Spotsylvania; typically not covered by insurance and payable by the patient.

The screenings at Medical Imaging of Fredricksburg are done with a normal CT machine that has been adjusted to produce only 21% of the radiation compared to a normal CT procedure. Radiologists read the CT immediately and handle same-day consultations with patients. The radiologist will also provide follow-up information if needed. At Spotsylvania Regional, same-day consultations are not available, however patients will receive a phone call within 48 hours by a nurse with radiology results.

These hospitals are joining many across the country in offering this service following a lengthy trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute that ran from 2002 – 2010 that determined low-dose CT scans were better than chest X-rays in finding early-stage lung cancers. Early detection leads to a 20 per cent reduction in deaths from the disease.

As with most medical testing, any small result present in the CT scan would need further testing. In the eight-year trial, many patients had small spots and shadows in their lungs that, with further testing, proved to be nothing concerning. Screening is the first step in finding any potential disease and is worth considering, especially if you have been a heavy smoker for many years.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Radon exposure is the second. Take care and breathe easy.

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