St. Luke's University Health Network


CT Scans to Screen Smokers

St. Luke's Becomes First Hospital in the Region to Offer a Lung Cancer Screening Program for Long-Term Current and Former Smokers

All it Takes is 10 Seconds

Drs. William Burfeind and Andrew Halpern
demonstrate the non-invasive spiral CT
Scanning test, a low-dose exam of the
chest that takes about 10 seconds and
a singe breath hold. 

For more information on St. Luke's Lung
Cancer Screening Program, call
St. Luke's InfoLink at 1-866-STLUKES

Screening based on major government-funded study receiving national attention

Bethlehem, PA (7/7/2011) - A landmark National Cancer Institute study has found that screening current and former heavy smokers each year using spiral CT scans can reduce lung cancer mortality risk by 20 percent. The findings of this study have been receiving attention: the results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a health segment about the benefits of lung cancer screening aired recently on “The Early Show” on CBS.

St. Luke's is offering this same lung cancer screening program to try and find early-stage lung cancers before they have had a chance to spread. “Once we learned the results of the national study, we felt compelled to offer this to our patients,” says cardiothoracic surgeon William Burfeind, Jr., MD, Chief, Thoracic Surgery, St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network.

Lung Cancer is Second Leading Cause of Death in the United States

“Lung cancer is second leading cause of death in the United States and accounts for more deaths than any other type of cancer,” Burfeind says. “Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are attributable to lung cancer: this is more than breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers combined. Lung cancer is so deadly because when symptoms appear and the diagnosis is made, the cancer usually has already spread. Only one-quarter of lung cancers are found in the early stages when surgical resection can cure it.”

Low-Dose CT Screening can Lead to Early Detection

A group of St. Luke's family medicine and internal medicine practices are currently participating in the program by referring appropriate patients for a low-dose CT screening test of the lungs. St. Luke's has plans to open the lung cancer screening program to additional physician offices. The screening CTs are performed in Radiology Departments throughout St. Luke's Hospital & Health Network.

The study showed that screening high-risk individuals with a Spiral CT scan, a quick, non-invasive test, can lead to the detection of small early-stage lung cancers before they have had time to spread, according to Dr. Burfeind. “Within the study, patients screened with CT scans had a significantly improved lung cancer specific and overall survival compared with patients screened with standard chest x-rays,” he says.

Former and current smokers ages 55 to 74 who have smoked more than 30-pack years may qualify for the screening. A 30-pack-year is the equivalent of one pack per day for 30 years or is calculated by multiplying the number of packs per day smoked by the number of years smoked.

St. Luke's Makes the Test Affordable

Currently, the nearly $400 scan is not covered by most insurances for screening purposes. “We realize most people would not be able to afford the cost of this potentially life-saving test,” says radiologist Andrew Halpern, MD. “St. Luke's has made the test affordable; the screening is offered for $49 with a doctor's prescription. Patients who are appropriate for this program are identified by their primary care doctor. It is up to the patient to take advantage of the screening.”

A low dose CT scan of the entire chest is taken in about 10 seconds during a single breath hold. “This screening scan could make a real difference for people considered high-risk for developing lung cancer,” says Dr. Halpern. “The scan produces a complete picture of the lung and can identify early-stage tumors. This test also may reveal other abnormalities that are not lung cancer, but may require follow-up or further medical surveillance. The entire appointment takes about ten minutes.”

Scans are reviewed by dedicated thoracic radiologists. The patient's primary care doctor receives the results and facilitates any needed follow-up medical care.

Dr. Burfeind and his colleague thoracic surgeon Matthew Puc, MD of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgical Associates of St. Luke's strongly encourage anyone who smokes to kick the habit, saying, “The most important way to lower one's risk of developing lung cancer is to stop smoking as soon as possible.”

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