CT Scans Can Save Lives

Introducing an affordable option for lung cancer screening

By Pamela Tronetti, DO, AGSF

I believe in preventive medicine. I make sure patients get their screening mammograms, colonoscopies and blood tests. And over the years I’ve ordered chest X-rays for patients at high risk for lung cancer, like smokers, painters and foundry workers.

But my reliance on chest X-rays ended when a friend’s mom came to me feeling tired and a little short of breath. Her chest X-ray showed a small nodule that was suspicious for cancer, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. A follow-up computed tomography (CT) scan showed half a dozen large masses crowding her lungs.

Other doctors across the country noticed the same phenomenon. Chest X-rays could miss a developing cancer. A recent study, called the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST), confirmed those suspicions. More than 53,000 current or former heavy smokers participated, and they had either a chest X-ray or a CT scan of the lungs annually for three years.

The study used a spiral CT scan that gives continuous 3-D pictures faster and with less radiation than the standard CT scan. The NLST study indicated that the CT scan could find the cancers earlier. In fact, participants who had the CT scans had 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays.

Now, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American College of Chest Physicians and the American Cancer Society have recommended screening for high-risk people ages 55 to 74 who have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.

Medicare and other insurances do not pay for CT scans as screening tests. Parrish Medical Center, however, now offers affordable screening chest CT scans. Patients can self-refer (no doctor’s order required) for a CT health screening. The cost is $99, and the results will be sent to the patient and his or her primary care doctor if requested.

If you are a current or former smoker; have a family history of lung cancer; or have been exposed to chemicals, solvents, paints or secondhand smoke, this health screening would be appropriate for you.

Patients who have a history of cancer should have their doctor order a diagnostic CT scan, which will be covered by insurance.

Lung cancer can be treated, especially if found early. Parrish Medical Center is using the latest treatment and technologies to save lives. Offering this health screening is the first step. 

Pamela Tronetti, DO, AGSF, is medical director of the Senior Consultation Center and a member of the Parrish Medical Center medical staff and the Parrish Medical Group.

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