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Test can detect lung cancer early

By Christopher Tenpenny

While it might not still be the most-common cancer, lung cancer remains No. 1 in mortality rate. Doctors and hospitals now have a tool to at least find the killer early, thanks to a low-dosage CT (LDCT) scan, a test which is available at both Cass Regional Medical Center and Bates Memorial Hospital.

The technology has been around since the late 90’s and has improved over the years. It takes less than five minutes for the LDCT scan to take place and offers minimal radiation. 

 Dr. Zach Boyd, a radiologist, at the Diagnostics Imaging Center, TA, in Kansas City, said the scan can see potential signs of lung cancer very early.

“The machine scans for nodules which we can see at 3-4 millimeters big,” Boyd said. “Nodules are very common and most often benign. Sometimes we can tell right away if it’s lung cancer and other times we have to follow up and monitor potential growth.”

Generally considered the primary candidates for the test are individuals 50 to 80 years old; have not had lung cancer before, currently smoke or have smoked in the last 15 years and smoke one pack per day for 20 years or more or smoked two packs a day for 10 years. 

Boyd speculated the 15-year stipulation was probably because a cancer would have most likely formed within that time span and was less likely later.

Since November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Dennis Minich, the managing editor of The South Cass Tribune, volunteered to have the test. He is a former smoker and went through the procedure last week, even though he was likely already outside the 15-year window.

“I was surprised how quick the test was. It literally took less time than to smoke a cigarette. I have several  medical issues so I thought it was important to find out and I was greatly relieved to get a positive report,” Minich said.

“Even though I hadn’t worried much about having lung cancer, it was reassuring to have the test verify it.”

Jennifer Patterson, the radiology technician at Cass Regional who performed Minich’s test said, “I tell patients it takes more time to walk them down the hall than it does to get the test.”

She said the hospital performs about one per day, but wishes more people would get tested.

“It is one of the best cancer screening tools we have,” she said.

Previously, chest x-rays were a common way to search for lung cancer, but the two-dimensional imaging made it difficult to read accurately. With a LDCT scan, the imaging is in 3D and makes it quick and easy to identify lung cancer.

“The thing about lung cancer is generally the patient does not show symptoms until it is too late,” Boyd said. “By getting this scan, it gives us an opportunity to identify lung cancer early.”

Despite the quick process, Boyd said few people are taking advantage of the test.

“Less than 5 percent of people eligible are scanned,” Boyd said. “Some people don’t know, some people are scared and others may be in denial. It’s like anything else, as it gains traction more and more people will know about it and hopefully the more common it will become.”

Potential downsides to having the scan done do include false positives, finding something else and exposure to radiation. However, the dose is so low Boyd said a patient who receives the scan is exposed to one-third of the amount of radiation that they would be exposed to in a year by just living.

The test is covered by Medicare and some private insurance companies. Missouri is one of the few states where Medicaid does not pay in most cases. Individuals desiring testing should consult their personal physicians for advice and referrals.

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