From Our Experts  |  November 16, 2016  |  Carmelo Gullotto, MD

Could Your Lung Cancer Be Treated?

It’s hard to believe that just 40-50 years ago people did not realize smoking cigarettes increased their risk of developing lung cancer. Today, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.Older man and granddaughter playing guitar

The most effective way to decrease your risk of developing lung cancer is to stay away from cigarettes or, if you already smoke, to quit. As too many people know, it can be difficult to quit smoking. That’s why a significant number of Americans are at an increased risk of dying from lung cancer. Data show that people with a 30 pack-year history of smoking are at a significantly increased risk of dying from lung cancer, and the risk persists for 15 years after the quit date. A pack-year means one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years.

Research-Based Treatment Option

Late-stage lung cancer can rarely be cured but if detected early, there may be options for treatment, even ones that could offer a cure. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effect of administering an annual low-dose lung screening CT scan (LDCT) to individuals who have an increased risk of lung cancer death. This includes a group who had a 30 pack-year history and continued to smoke or who had quit smoking within the last 15 years. LDCT was shown to be a promising strategy for reducing lung cancer deaths. In fact, the death rate from lung cancer was 20% lower in the group that underwent annual LDCT compared to the group that did not. Interestingly, death from all causes was also decreased in the group of people who underwent LDCT.

Is LDCT the right strategy for you?

If you have a history of smoking more than 30 pack-years and are still smoking or if you quit smoking within the last 15 years, ask your doctor about the annual LDCT screening protocol.

What are the risks of LDCT?

Have a LDCT is easy. All you have to do is lie down and hold your breath for five to ten seconds — and it’s painless. LDCT does not involve the administration of an IV or contrasts and the x-ray radiation involved is four to five times less than the radiation involved in a diagnostic CT. For comparison, LDCT radiation is significantly less than the average background radiation you experience during the course of a year. As with any screening procedure, there is a risk of a false positive test result (meaning results come back abnormal, but further investigation does not find cancer).

Is LDCT covered by my insurance?

Lung cancer can be a painful, expensive terminal illness. LDCT is a useful tool for detecting lung cancer early when it is at a treatable stage. This is why Medicare and many insurers now cover LDCT for moderate to heavy smokers.

As with any preventive health measure, it is important to collaborate with your healthcare provider. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to improve your overall health risk is to quit smoking. Additionally, your healthcare provider can help you determine whether you meet criteria for the annual LDCT screening strategy.

Wake Radiology offers lung cancer screenings and LDCT at all of our offices through the Triangle area where CT services are provided. Ask your doctor about how our team of physicians can help with early lung cancer detection.

About Our Expert

Carmelo Gullotto, MD — Dr. Gullotto joined Wake Radiology in 2004. He is a body imaging radiologist and a Breast MRI specialist with special clinical interest in abdominal imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Learn More...

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