Annual low-dose CT (LDCT) scans for people at high risk for lung cancer have proved to reduce the chance of death from the disease by 20 percent. However, only about 5 percent of eligible people are being screened.
In March 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force expanded the screening criteria to include more people. Current recommendations include people 50 to 80 years old who have a smoking history of 20-pack years or more. One-pack year is defined as smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for a year or an equivalent amount. They are either a current smoker, or they quit smoking within the past 15 years, and have no symptoms. Earlier criteria had a higher smoking volume (30-pack years) and a narrower age range (55 to 75).
“Our goal is to find tumors at stage 1 or stage 2 when we can offer full curative procedures,” says Abhishek Kumar, MD, medical director of interventional pulmonology at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas (Baylor Dallas), part of Baylor Scott & White Health. “The gold standard is removal of the cancer through surgical resection. The second option, if the tumor is small enough, is stereotactic body radiation therapy or SBRT.”
For more advanced cancers – up to stage 3 – treatment may consist of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery after the tumor has shrunk enough. As staging goes up, longevity decreases and the risk of recurrence increases, Dr. Kumar says.
“Screening for breast cancer and colon cancer is a no brainer for most providers,” Dr. Kumar says. “Once you reach a certain age, you start screening mammography and colonoscopy. One of the reasons I think patients at risk for lung cancer are not well screened is that they are a select group of people with specific exposure and age criteria. Because it involves more details, it may not be top of mind for primary care providers as they’re working through their very busy days. Because it can save lives, we want to do everything possible to make lung cancer screening available to all eligible patients.”
If a lung nodule or lesion is found, the Lung Nodule Clinic at Baylor Dallas can provide a comprehensive plan of care through access to multiple specialists at one location. The team works closely with the patient’s referring provider and patient navigators to support follow-up evaluations.
To learn more about the Lung Nodule Clinic or refer a patient for LDCT screening, call 214.820.1739.