Hope for the holidays: Low-dose CT scans for lung cancer

by Dr. Donald Norwood ([email protected]) 477 views 

Thanksgiving came and went before we entered full-blown holiday mode.

Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, many of us are looking forward to gathering with family and friends, ideally over a spread of delicious food. But for some Arkansans, this time of year—and the empty seats at our tables—can be a painful reminder of the loved ones we’ve lost. Far too often, it’s to lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in our state.

But there’s a reason for hope this holiday season: low-dose CT scans.

The American Lung Association recently released its fifth annual “State of Lung Cancer” report. In 2022, Arkansas experienced a slight decrease in new lung cancer cases at more than 75 per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 57 per 100,000 people. We also remained high on the list at No. 40 for our five-year survival rate of 21% versus the national rate of 25%.

Fortunately, the Lung Association’s report showed that Arkansas made steady progress in detecting lung cancer. We’ve improved our early diagnosis rate by 12% over the last five years, bringing us in line with the national rate of 25%. But we can raise it even more by encouraging eligible Arkansans to receive lung cancer screenings.

Peer-reviewed research consistently shows low-dose CT scans can help detect lung cancer at its early stages when it’s more likely to be cured. The Lung Association states, “if lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving five years or more improves to 60%.” A National Institutes of Health study further demonstrates the lifesaving impact, reporting that these scans could reduce lung cancer deaths by 20%.

So, who should consider getting a low-dose CT scan? According to current criteria, these scans are recommended for those at the greatest risk of developing lung cancer but who haven’t yet shown signs or symptoms of the disease. This includes current or former smokers 50 to 77 years old and individuals with a smoking history of at least 20 pack years who are generally in good health with no history of lung cancer. Patients should talk to their doctors about their risks and need for screening.

December is packed with celebrations, from tree-lighting ceremonies to potluck dinners. One item we shouldn’t forget on our holiday to-do lists: giving our loved ones the gift of hope. Before the year ends, take a moment to educate your family, friends and neighbors about how low-dose CT scans can help in the early detection and treatment of lung cancer.

Editor’s note: Dr. Donald B. Norwood, diagnostic radiologist, is the medical director of imaging services for CARTI, a not-for-profit, multidisciplinary cancer care provider with 18 locations across Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.