In the Clinic

On Cancer: Memorial Sloan Kettering Offers New Type of Lung Cancer Screening for Smokers

By Jim Stallard, MA, Writer/Editor  |  Monday, June 17, 2013
Pictured: Low-dose chest CT scan This image shows a low-dose chest CT scan of a woman in her late 60s who smoked for 30 years. No lung cancer was detected.

Some people at high risk for lung cancer due to smoking now have the option of being screened with a powerful method that has been proven to save lives. Memorial Sloan Kettering’s new Lung Cancer Screening Program offers low-dose CT screening to current and former smokers who fit specific criteria in order to detect the disease at its earliest stage.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to improve some patients’ lives and even cure their disease by catching lung cancers early,” says thoracic surgeon Nabil P. Rizk, who led the team developing the screening program along with Michelle S. Ginsberg, Director of Cardiothoracic Imaging.

The Lung Cancer Screening Program provides low-dose CT screening for longtime smokers between the ages of 55 and 74. Eligible patients will receive an initial scan, then follow-up scans one and two years later. Low-dose CT scans use only about 20 percent of the radiation of conventional CT scans.

A Proven Approach

Eligibility is based on results from the National Lung Screening Trial, a groundbreaking study that found that lung cancer deaths in patients fitting these same criteria were decreased by 20 percent in people who had three low-dose CT scans over two years. Results from this study were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011.

“Many cancer screening efforts have had disappointing results when it came to actually saving lives,” Dr. Rizk says. “But this study gave us conclusive evidence that low-dose CT screening provides a clear benefit to certain people at high risk for lung cancer. We are among the first cancer centers to offer this type of screening but anticipate this approach will eventually be adopted nationwide.”

The scans are interpreted by Memorial Sloan Kettering radiologists who are highly specialized in reading lung CT scans. Because the sensitive scans produce a significant number of false positives (detection of abnormalities that are noncancerous), it is essential that the medical team chooses an intervention that does not put the patient at unnecessary risk. If a scan detects an abnormality, Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians can use minimally invasive techniques to take a biopsy and, if cancer is detected, stage the disease with great precision.

Many options exist to treat early-stage lung cancer while minimizing complications. Some patients can be treated with alternatives to surgery — such as destroying a tumor with tightly focused radiation, freezing it (cryotherapy), or using high-energy electromagnetic waves (radiofrequency ablation).

“For patients with a positive result, our specialists have the expertise to determine the best course of action for each individual case,” Dr. Rizk says. “If lung cancer is diagnosed, our multidisciplinary teams can provide effective therapies that clearly make a difference.”

Comments

This will undoubtedly save and extend many lives. Thank you Dr. Rizk and staff. Your thoroughness and shook saved my young sister last year. We are grateful that she is in your continued care.

*skill not shook.

I am having this CT scanning done by Dr. Lee. Two small nodules were found on my right lung. Two follow up CT's showed no change. Will have final one at year end. I am 65, quit smoking 10 years ago after smoking 40 years. Have mild COPD. I feel more at ease that the CT's are not indicating cancer.

PLEASE get a lung CT. I had one about 5.5 years ago that showed a .6cm nodule on my right upper lung. I was advised to repeat it in 6 months and it grew to .9cm. I smoked heavily for about 36 years - within 1 month of the second scan I had a lobectomy - that was a little over 5 years ago and so far so good. My mother had lung cancer and my youngest sister by 7 years was diagnosed a year ago with stage 4 nsclc. My Mom had passed 20 years ago and my sister passed in February. I am so very lucky to have found it so early (stage 1A). By the way I quit smoking 9 years ago and my mother was diagnosed years after she quit. PLEASE GET SCANNED!!!!!

My husband died at age 69 from lung cancer after having smoked from age 15 to age 54. It was not detected till it was too late. Hope this will same lives. We need to get the word out to the general public so those in peril can avail themselves of this new CT scan.

I recently quit smoking after 30 plus years of smoking however I am only 51 does anyone know if I could still get a scan at Sloan even though i do not meet the age requirement of 55? Thanks

Hi Debbie, we consulted with Dr. Rizk and currently this scanning is not available at Memorial Sloan-Kettering for people under age 55 due to the absence of firm evidence (at this time) supporting its use in younger patients. Thank you for your comment.

I think it might help if screenings were open to people who lived with other smokers too. My parents smoked the entire time I lived with them and my husband smoked in the house for almost 10 years before I asked him to go outside. He gets regular screenings, but I do not qualify. In any event, I am very pleased this program is available, as it IS saving lives now.

Thank you for your reply since I am not eligible for the scan through the study would I be able to get the scan at Sloan at my own expense? Thank you

Hi Debbie, at this time the scan is not available for people under age 55. (Even outside the study.) Thank you for your comment.

I am 73 and a smoker. Is access to this trial still open?

James, results from the National Lung Screening Trial mentioned in the blog post above were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011. If you are interested in learning more about our Tobacco Cessation Program, go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/counseling-support/tobacco-cessation-programs
Thanks for your comment.

I am 73 and a smoker. Is the lung cancer screening program still open?

Dear James, if you would like to learn if you are eligible for a low-dose lung CT screening through our Lung Cancer Screening Program (and if you are eligible and would like to make an appointment), please call 646-227-3500. Here is a link with more information about the program: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/screening-services/lung-screening
Thanks for your comment.

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