Cancer Today - Summer 2015

Defeating the Deadliest Cancer with New Screening

Lung cancer has long been defined as the deadliest cancer, claiming more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Those affected by the other cancers listed have been encouraged with marked improvements in survival rates, while significant progress has been limited for lung cancer. However, with new screening guidelines in place, the time has come for those who are at risk for lung cancer to have hope, as well. The outlook is optimistic: Studies show that when detected early, patients with lung cancer can now have a 90 percent survival rate.

In the past, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer has been just 16 percent.  This is directly related to late-stage disease diagnosis in the majority of cases. Because the lungs are not innervated, lung cancer tends to grow and progress without causing any symptoms. However, with the introduction of new screening guidelines targeting long-term, heavy smokers who are at highest risk for lung cancer, these statistics may start to improve. William Moore, MD, Co-Director, Center for Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention, and a board-certified thoracic radiologist, explained, “Screening for lung cancer with a low-dose chest CT scan has saved many lives due to early detection. In addition, screening has lowered disease burden in dozens of others who have decreased or quit smoking as a result of the screening program.”

“At Stony Brook University Cancer Center, we are taking an aggressive, multifaceted approach to screening patients who are high risk,” said Barbara Nemesure, PhD, Director, Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Cancer Center. This approach includes an annual low-dose radiation computed tomography (CT) chest scan, a physical examination, smoking cessation programs and long-term patient follow-up. In fact, one of the goals is to encourage patients to become ex-smokers by their next visit.  

Stony Brook’s Program is available for those who are current or former smokers and:
• Are 50 to 80 years of age
• Have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years
• Or, who have quit a heavy smoking habit within the past 15 years

Dr. Nemesure added, “We welcome any individual who may be at high risk to inquire about the program. This includes those who have quit smoking within the past 15 years or individuals who may have been exposed to hazardous environmental or chemical irritants, including those who worked at Ground Zero.

"If someone is unsure if they qualify, call April Plank, DNP, Co-Director, Center for Lung Cancer Screening and Prevention, at (631) 638-7000. One barrier to screening has typically been resistance or anxiety by patients when they have no symptoms. “It is important to educate our community that screening works, and it can save lives,” said Dr. Plank. “Part of my role is to educate our patients, offer reassurance and guide our patients through the process.”

Outcomes prove value
More than 350 patients have been screened since the program’s inception in 2013 and five cases of lung cancer were detected in patients who were otherwise asymptomatic. All underwent surgery at Stony Brook University Hospital. These patients have been given a good prognosis for survival due to the early detection of lung cancer by the screening program.

For more information, call (631) 638-7000.

For the full issue: Cancer Today • Fall 2015