Take A Deep Breath – should I get screened for lung cancer?

"This is Doctor Wilson. She saved my life."

“I lay on my back with my hands over my head as the machine clicked around me,” said Emily. “It was a piece of cake. The whole thing took 20 minutes from changing my clothes to completing the scan.”

Emily, a life-long Somerville resident, had her first lung CT last year at CHA. A smoker for about 50 years, her primary care doctor suggested she contact Dr. Duncan Kuhn, co-director of the pulmonary nodule and thoracic mass program at CHA, who scheduled her first screening. She breezed through the first scan with no abnormalities and returned this year for her follow-up screening.

“I was shocked to hear the results of my second test because I felt fine,” Emily revealed. “And then, after my biopsy, I was sort of relieved to learn it was stage one cancer. That’s when we started talking about treatments. Thank God they caught it in time!”

Emily’s story is exactly how lung screening is supposed to work. Most people don’t think of lung cancer when they think about the “Big C”, but they should.

According to the American Cancer Society, “lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Each year, more people in the US die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined” (learn more). It’s also the second most commonly diagnosed cancer.

“When people get lung screenings early, 80% of those with cancer have curable, local disease."

The good news is that people don’t have to sit back and wait, especially if they have a smoking history. “As a designated American College of Radiology Lung Cancer Screening Center, CHA provides high quality, low-risk screenings,” Dr. Kuhn explained. “Emily’s story illustrates the benefits.”

Why Get Screened?

Dr. Duncan Kuhn with CT Scan
Dr. Kuhn with the low dose CT, a comfortable and easy screening.

“Getting screened early can save your life,” explained Nazli Erbay, MD, Associate Chief of Radiology and Director of CT. “If we catch the cancer when it’s small, treatments are highly effective and less severe.”

The screening is easy and takes a few minutes to complete. Results are often available the same day and primary care providers are given a report immediately. Cases requiring a closer look are reviewed at the Thoracic Tumor Board, which includes doctors from radiology, pathology, pulmonary and thoracic surgery. Patients are seen and their care is managed in the multidisciplinary Thoracic Mass Clinic.

“When people get lung screenings early, 80% of those with cancer have curable, local disease,” says Jennifer Wilson, MD, board certified Thoracic Surgeon and co-director of the thoracic pulmonary nodule and thoracic mass program at CHA. “In contrast, 80% of the patients we see who didn’t get screened have advanced disease. We want to catch lung cancer when it is curable so that we can save lives.”

Recent research supports Dr. Wilson’s experience and shows that low dose CT lets providers find disease at its early stages. Because of this ground breaking research, most insurance now pays for the screening in high risk patients.

Who Is Eligible?

Health insurance plans have different rules for lung screenings. But many follow these guidelines:

  • People between 55 and 80 years old with no symptoms of lung cancer
  • Current smokers, or those who quit in the last 15 years
  • People who smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years

Emily’s Lung Cancer Journey

Emily’s lung cancer was removed by Dr. Wilson with three small minimally invasive incisions. “I’m happy to report that I’m cancer free,” Emily smiled as she and Dr. Wilson embraced warmly. “I hope my story scares people enough to come get the screening. I know it saved my life!”

Please speak with your primary care provider to find out more about low dose CT lung cancer screening.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.