WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A new low-dose CT lung cancer screening is being hailed as “a 15-minute scan that can save your life.”
As of July 1, 2020, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment added coverage for the low-dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer to KanCare. Primary care physicians of former or current smoking patients age 50-80 are encouraged to recommend the scan to their patients.
The scan is a special kind of X-ray, taking multiple images while the patient lies on a table. A computer then combines the images to create a detailed picture of the lungs. The resulting image is then reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team to determine the best course of action for the patient.
“This has been the first major drastic change in lung cancer survival in the last 30 years,” said Dr. Brett Grizzell, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Wichita Surgical Specialists.
Grizzell said most patients who qualify for the scan will have had a 20 pack-year smoking history; one pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years. They need to have smoked or quit smoking within the past 15 years.
As an 18-year esophageal cancer survivor, 63-year-old Barbara Thomas learned of the scan earlier this year at her annual Medicare wellness check. Both her age and smoking history qualified her for the scan.
“Today, sitting here right now, I wouldn’t be standing here because I wouldn’t have had it. I wouldn’t know,” Thomas said.
The 15-minute scan uncovered cancer on Thomas’ right lung. The good news, it was caught while still in stage one.
Thomas considers what life would be like if she discovered the lung cancer a year, or ten, from now.
“It would be a whole different story,” Thomas said.
Ascension Via Christi reports doing 271 of these lung screenings in the first quarter of 2021, 48 of which required follow-up action, but Grizzell says most of those who qualify for the scan are not completing it.
“Only 15% are actually doing it. So there’s about 85% of people that are at risk for this with 20% survivor benefit, the majority of patients aren’t going through this yet,” Dr. Grizzell said.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in America, but it can be treatable and beatable when caught early.
Catching cancer early far outweighs the risks of the low dose radiation, according to Grizzell.
Thomas was able to capitalize on another new technology to treat her non-small cell lung cancer: CyberKnife therapy.
The only CyberKnife therapy offered in the state is located at the Ascension Via Christi CyberKnife Center in Wichita. The painless, non-invasive treatment uses high doses of radiation to target precise areas and destroy tumors. For Thomas, this meant only eight 35-minute treatments compared to surgery and chemotherapy.
In 2005 with her first bout of cancer, she suffered burn marks and scarring from treatment.
Thomas reports sleeping during her CyberKnife therapy.
“I mean this is nothing like what the first round was,” Thomas says, comparing her cancer journies.
Now treated, Thomas can return to her normal groove in her job at The Cotillion.