Lung Cancer Screening Program Only Local Program Recognized for ‘Best Practices’

lung cancer team

From left: John Morris, MD, hematology/oncology; Amanda Bainbridge, PA-C, thoracic surgery; Sandra Starnes, MD, thoracic surgery; Valerie Williams, MD, thoracic surgery; Bradley Huth, MD, radiation oncology

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute’s Lung Cancer Screening Program has been recognized by the Lung Cancer Alliance as one of 100 centers nationally for following best practices for screening residents who are at an increased risk for lung cancer.

It is the only local program to be recognized.

Additionally, the program—which officially began November 2012—just screened its 100th patient, reaching the milestone four months early before its one-year anniversary.

On July 29, the United States Preventative Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation giving its second-highest approval rating for CT screening for lung cancer for those at high risk, which the Cancer Institute’s Screening Program has been doing since 2012.

Sandra Starnes, MD, John B. Flege, Jr. Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery and associate professor at UC, a UC Health thoracic surgeon and co-leader of the UC Cancer Institute Comprehensive Lung Cancer Center, along with John Morris, MD, says that individuals who have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years and are over the age of 55 are considered at the highest risk.

“We use low radiation dose chest computed tomography, or CT, scans for screening, which is used to identify unrecognized disease in people who have no signs or symptoms in an attempt to intervene earlier when disease is generally more treatable,” she says.

Starnes adds that scans are performed under a strict clinical protocol that capitalizes on the expertise of the entire multidisciplinary UC Cancer Institute Lung Cancer Team to produce the most accurate results for patients.

In 2011, the National Cancer Institute published data supporting chest CT scans as an effective lung cancer screening tool for a high-risk patient population. The study showed that when heavy smokers were screened with low-radiation dose CT scans versus traditional chest X-rays, there was a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer-related deaths.

A separate UC-based trial evaluating chest CT scans in a population of 132 heavy smokers, which was published in 2011, also supported the imaging technique as a viable screening tool in a high-risk population.

“This allows lung cancer specialists to view the lungs one ‘slice’ at a time. Nodules that are too small to show up on a chest X-ray are more likely to be detected and specialists can more accurately follow up on concerning lesions,” Starnes says.

Starnes estimates that 90 percent of lung cancer diagnoses are made in current or former smokers. The Greater Cincinnati area has a lung cancer rate that is consistently higher than the general population, primarily due to our region’s high smoking rate.

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