Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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Low Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening


By Kathi Copelen, Lung Cancer Center Coordinator, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

More people die of lung cancer each year in the United States than any other type of cancer, yet when it’s caught early, there are more treatment options and much higher survival rates. Early detection through screening is a proven, successful strategy for fighting lung cancer. OSF Saint Francis Medical Center offers lung screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT); the only recommended screening test for this disease.

Screening refers to testing people at risk of developing a disease before its symptoms or signs have appeared. Symptoms of lung cancer do not present until the cancer is in its advanced stages where treatment options are limited. Screening is an essential tool for improving lung cancer survival.

Based on evidence from the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) and several other studies, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended annual screening with low-dose CT in persons at high risk for lung cancer. In fact, the most critical finding of the NLST is that annual screening with low-dose CT for three years reduced lung cancer-specific mortality by 20 percent in this high-risk population, as opposed to chest X-ray screening.

The USPSTF recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT in adults ages 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. A pack-year equals the number of packs smoked per day times the number of years the patient smoked. For example, one pack per day for 30 years equals 30 pack-years.

There are risks and benefits to LDCT screening. The risks range from false positives that create patient anxiety, to radiation exposure and the costs associated with follow-up testing and procedures.

However, the benefit of LDCT screening is lung cancer deaths are averted and life-years are gained! According to the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, “lung cancer has become an epidemic, and initial clinical trials to use screening chest X-ray or sputum cytology were unsuccessful in reducing lung cancer-specific mortality. Now a useful screening method in LDCT has been proven to increase the survival of those with this disease.”

Robert E. Gordon of Washington, IL, age 80, knows how beneficial LDCT screening can be. A former smoker, he realized he may be at risk for lung cancer. Gordon called the OSF Saint Francis Lung Cancer Screening Program and scheduled his LDCT scan. The scan found a nodule in his left upper lobe “the size of a nickel.”

Mr. Gordon was referred to Dr. Patrick Whitten, lung specialist and cancer expert at OSF Lung Nodule Clinic at Illinois Lung and Critical Care Institute who explained that the nodule would need to be biopsied. The biopsy confirmed cancer.

Once all testing was completed, Mr. Gordon’s case was discussed with the multidisciplinary team at the Lung Cancer Clinic. Together this group of specialists developed an individualized treatment plan.

Because of LDCT screening, Mr. Gordon’s lung cancer was caught early enough that it could be treated with surgery. In January of this year, Gordon saw Dr. Richard Anderson, thoracic surgeon at Peoria Surgical Group, and lung surgery was scheduled for February. Gordon stated, “I’m thankful for the good Lord’s guidance, family and friends’ prayers, talented staff, Dr. Anderson, and the screening scan. They saved my life. I received my scan for free during lung cancer awareness month, but I would tell everyone… if you can afford it, get it! I feel great and very fortunate. I am looking forward to golfing and better weather.” Mr. Gordon will be seen at Illinois Cancer Care for follow up, but at this time there is no mention of needing chemo or radiation therapy.

According to Dr. Whitten, “LDCT screening is a secondary risk reduction strategy to smoking cessation. Not smoking is still the best defense against lung cancer. It’s important to help people quit smoking through a well-organized smoking cessation program.

Smoking-related lung cancer still kills 160,000 people every year — more than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. If you are interested in low dose CT lung cancer screening, talk to your physician to find out if it is right for you. For more information on this important screening, go to

Photo credit: © 2014 OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Jim Carlson, Photograph