Center seeks to catch lung cancer before the cough

By the time someone develops a smoker’s cough, that person already might have lung cancer, local health officials said.

That’s one reason Schneck Medical Center is promoting its CT (computed tomography) lung screening services to patients who are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

“We need to catch these cases earlier. But the problem is that a cough is one of the first symptoms of lung cancer, so they have no idea until it’s very advanced and is causing pain or they are coughing up blood,” said Sally Acton, director of cancer and pain services at Schneck.

Acton said that, with the county’s adult smoking rate around 25 percent, more people should get the screenings.

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“We really want to start promoting our CT lung scans for smokers,” she said. “If we have that many people who are smokers, we should be doing a lot more of these.”

Rita Baker, director of diagnostic imaging at Schneck, agreed but said there are certain criteria a patient must meet before they need such a scan.

Primary candidates for the screening are those age 55 to 74 who have smoked a pack a day for at least 30 years and who continue to smoke or who quit less than 15 years ago. Those 50 or older who smoke a pack a day for at least 20 years also are at high risk.

Other risk factors include occupational exposure, residential radon exposure, a personal history of lung cancer or a family history of lung cancer or other lung diseases.

“You need to have a smoking pack history and be a certain age,” Baker said. “Someone who has only been smoking a couple of years and are in their 30s doesn’t meet the criteria.”

Acton said most lung cancer patients treated at Schneck’s cancer center are older. Of the 45 cases treated in 2013, six were 40 to 49, eight were 50 to 59, 14 were 60 to 69, and 14 were 70 to 79.

The screening consists of a questionnaire to determine eligibility and a CT chest scan, which will help detect if cancer is present in the lungs. Cost of the screening is $99, which covers the cost of the scan and the radiologist’s fee to read it.

Medicare covers the test as a preventive benefit for those who are considered high risk, so the fee is waived. Medicare is billed for Medicare beneficiaries. This test is not covered by private insurance.

Patients with commercial health insurance should check with their provider to see if the service is covered, Baker added.

Screenings help catch more cases of the disease in its earliest stages, Acton added, which improves survival rates.

“This is for the community to help find this cancer earlier. We are very aggressive in making sure we have good, quality cancer care here for our community,” she said. “A lot of these can be removed surgically and be cured if found early enough.”

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To schedule a CT lung screening at Schneck Medical Center, call 812-522-0433.