Your Health: How a screening can help detect lung cancer

Your Health: How a screening can help detect lung cancer
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 5:25 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for about 25% of all cancers.

More people die from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Health experts recommend a yearly low-dose CT scan of the chest for patients who are at high-risk of the disease, but this potentially life-saving prescription has been slow to take hold.

In the fall of 2018, Lisa Barbaro developed a deep cough. An x-ray showed no sign of anything serious, still, her pulmonologist was concerned because Barbaro was a long-time smoker.

“Every doctor says you need to quit smoking,” Barbaro said. “I had smoked for 50 years but I wasn’t quitting smoking.”

She agreed to undergo a screening to get a more detailed view of her lungs, where they found small nodules on her lungs. Barbaro had early-stage lung cancer.

“They were tiny, like just the end of a ballpoint pen,” said Dr. Claudia Henschke. “But we saw them change in size and therefore she was then recommended to have surgery.”

The lungs have few pain receptors, so lung cancer is often missed until it’s late stage. That’s why screening can be so important.

The U.S, Preventive Services task force recommends people who are over 50 and smoke a pack a day to get screened.

Fewer than 10% of all smokers who are eligible for the CT lung screening actually get the test.

“We need to reach out to those, to smokers and former smokers, because we can really save their lives,” Henschke said.

The CT scans for patients at higher risk for lung cancer are covered by private insurance, as well as Medicaid and Medicare. Because the scan also includes other organs in the chest and abdomen, Barbaro’s doctors detected a separate, early-stage breast cancer that her mammogram missed. She has also had successful treatment for that cancer.

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