New guidelines recommend lung cancer screening for many smokers

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WESTWOOD, Kan. -- Thursday is the Great American Smokeout. Quitting is the number one way for smokers to try to avoid death from lung cancer, but new guidelines say many smokers and former ones can also benefit from annual screening.

In 2010, Pat Galvin came to K.U. Cancer Center after his doctor decided he needed a CT scan of his heart. There was a bonus scan of his lungs.

"The good news was my calcium scan was fabulous. The bad news was I had a spot on my lung," said Galvin, who'd smoked a pack a day for 30 years.

Galvin immediately quit smoking, and he listened to his doctors.

"When we see a tiny nodule like that, we're still not sure it's cancer, but can follow it over time," said Dr. Lucas Meek, a radiologist at K.U. Cancer Center.

Groups including the American Cancer Society now recommend that long-time heavy smokers or former ones get low-dose CT scans every year. The guidelines include people ages 55 to 74 who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs for 15 years.

K.U.'s program has a nurse navigator to help people through the screening.

"I also follow-up with them within a day to give them their results and what next steps should be whether it be continued follow-up annually or possibly a sooner follow-up," said Barbara Hedgpeth, the navigator.

Galvin's scans the next two years showed no change in the lung nodule. But this year, it was larger and denser. He had surgery which revealed the spot was cancer. It was an early lung cancer. Only surgery was needed.

Galvin thinks his story shows the new screening recommendations are spot on.

"It could save your life. If I didn't get it done, who knows where I'd be three years from now," said Galvin.

His outcome was far different from most lung cancer cases. But Dr. Meek believes that with the new CT screening guidelines, many more lives can be saved.

Other hospitals, including Saint Luke's, also have lung cancer screening programs. Many insurers do not cover the scans, but that could change once guidelines from a government task force are finalized. At K.U., the scans cost $240.

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