November 17, 2016

Take a Deep Breath – A Quick, Simple Test Provides Early Lung Cancer Detection

Here’s a quick quiz: Which month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? You probably accurately guessed “October.” After all, it’s hard to miss all of the pink ribbons each fall.

shutterstock-white-ribbonNow, here’s another one: Which month is Lung Cancer Awareness Month? Did you have a little more trouble with that one? Unless lung cancer has impacted your life or the life of a loved one, you were likely unaware that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It may also surprise you to know that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of men and women in the United States. It takes the lives of more people than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Despite the deadly nature of lung cancer, screening methods have rarely been discussed or promoted. “This is not just because awareness of the disease needs to increase; it’s also because there wasn’t a reliable screening method until recently,” said John Ende, MD, director of body imaging for Asheville Radiology Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

Fortunately, that has changed with the introduction of low-dose CT (LDCT) lung screening. Now patients who are at risk for lung cancer have a better chance at early detection. “Statistics have shown that about 75 percent of lung cancer patients are already at an inoperable stage at the time of diagnosis, so catching the disease earlier is critical,” explained Dr. Ende.

The new LDCT screening method will likely be an invaluable tool in reducing these grim statistics. Results from the National Lung Screening Trial, which were published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, found a 20 percent reduction in mortality in patients screened with LDCT.

“In real life, the reduction in mortality is expected to be even greater since the trial only reflects two to three years of screening,” said Dr. Ende. “This is important because no test before had ever been proven to be an effective tool for decreasing lung cancer mortality.”

How the Screening Works

The LDCT lung screening is a fast, low-dose CT scan of the lungs. “The scan takes less than 8 seconds and is done in a single breath hold,” explained Dr. Ende. “There is no preparation beforehand, and no need for an IV or intravenous contrast.”

The term “low dose” refers to the dosage of radiation emitted during the scan. This screening method uses only a quarter of the radiation a standard CT uses.

Who Should Have the Screening

Dr. Ende said the test is recommended for any patient at risk for lung cancer, but is especially important for people between the ages of 55 and 77 who have a 30 “pack year” history of smoking, and who either still smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Smoking is one of the primary risk factors for lung cancer, and increases with the number of years you’ve smoked, as well as the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. Additional risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to radon gas, exposure to asbestos and family history of lung cancer.


John Ende, MD, is director of body imaging for Asheville Radiology Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

Ready for a low-dose CT lung screening? To get all of your questions answered, call (828) 213-2506 or visit mission-health.org/LDCT.