Schneck sees increase in low-dose CT lung screening


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it accounts for 23% of all cancer deaths. In 2019, 139,603 people died of lung cancer.

The survival rate after five years of being diagnosed is only 15.6%.

“Typically, that is because when we identify that someone has lung cancer, it’s usually late stage, so they have had it for some time,” Amy Pettit, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer of Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, said during a recent Schneck board of trustees meeting.

National studies have shown that a low-dose CT lung screening is the best way to diagnose early stage lung cancer in order to increase the survival rate, she said.

Schneck offers that screening, which is recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network for high-risk patients.

A physician order is not required to get this type of CT, and it costs $25 and is not billed to commercial insurance, Pettit said. If they are a Medicare or Medicaid patient, they will sign an advance beneficiary notice.

“It is noncontrast, so we don’t get any type of a contrast for this CT,” she said. “It’s a low-dose chest CT. It really gives about half the dose of what a normal CT would give.”

Risk factors for lung cancer include tobacco smoking, contact with radon, asbestos or other cancer-causing agents or family history of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pulmonary fibrosis.

High risk includes those ages 50 to 80 with 20 or more pack years of smoking, those who quit smoking less than 15 years ago or those who are current smokers, Pettit said.

“We don’t want those individuals to have had a lung scan in the last 18 months, a chest CT in the past 12 months, pneumonia in the past three months or any type of cancer in the last five years,” she said.

Limiting the screening to people who are at risk for lung cancer helps prevent unnecessary testing of those who really don’t need it, Pettit said.

“It’s not appropriate for anyone who is symptomatic or those who have had other recent diagnostic tests,” she said. “It’s also not appropriate for follow-up of any suspicious nodules. If they think something is there, this isn’t the right type of screening. This truly is a screening.”

The patients are followed with a team-driven approach, including radiology, pulmonology, medical oncology and radiation oncology. There’s also an interdisciplinary lung nodule review board that meets to discuss test results.

“We are really working together as a group to increase the awareness of this program for our community,” Pettit said.

Since the screenings started in 2018, she said Schneck has seen the volume increase from the initial 4% positivity rate.

“The more we get, the higher that positivity rate so we can catch those lung cancers early, again increasing the survival rate,” she said.

“If we stay on track with where we’ve been through April, you’ll see that we could have as much of a positivity rate as 14% for these patients,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot more patients who are at risk get his low-dose CT screening and having great results of identifying those lung cancers early. Offering it to the public as an option for them to come in without an order has really been a game-changer, too.”

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