DENTON, Texas – Mammograms have long been credited with helping detect breast cancer early, but did you know there’s a lung screening that can help former and current longtime smokers identify potential lung cancer sooner?
Offered at various Texas Health hospitals for qualifying individuals with a higher risk of lung cancer, the low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan, a non-invasive, more accurate X-ray, can help identify potential early-stage lung cancers too small to be detected by a traditional X-ray. The screenings, which are quick and painless, can ultimately help save lives and lead to better outcomes.
“In the last 20 years with lung cancer, we’ve realized that just like with prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer, you have to find it early,” said Dr. Jose Escobar, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton. “By the time you get symptoms – like developing a cough, losing weight or having chest pains – you usually have advanced lung cancer, which is less likely to cure.”
Escobar advocated for the low-dose screening program at Texas Health Denton after treating an influx of patients with advanced-stage lung cancer at Cardiac, Vascular & Thoracic Surgical Associates of Denton, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice*.
“I realized there were a lot of patients being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer – patients I was treating palliatively for lung cancer disease, meaning they were getting procedures for advanced lung cancer with no hope of a real cure,” Escobar said.
Since launching in January 2020, more than 160 individuals have received screenings at Texas Health Denton, with a half dozen referred for additional imaging or biopsies. It’s a collaborative effort among several departments, including scheduling, registration, radiology, nursing and referring physician offices.
Texas Health offers similar programs at other hospitals, including Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hurst-Euless-Bedford.
Patients must be referred for the program by a physician, be 50 to 80 years of age and have smoked the equivalent of 20 pack-years or more. A pack year is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked.
The low-dose CT scan, which takes a 3-D picture of an individual’s lungs, is more detailed than a standard chest X-ray, takes less than 10 minutes, does not require the removal of clothing and uses 75% less radiation exposure than a regular CT scan.
The scan identifies lung nodules, also known as lesions or growths, that are often benign when small in size but can become cancerous over time.
“The CT gives us a baseline to see what their lungs look like,” Escobar said. “Oftentimes, they find small nodules that we can just follow by repeating the scan in six months or a year, depending on the recommendation from radiology. That way, we’re able to see early if nodules are growing, therefore becoming more suspicious, and we can have those biopsied or actually removed.”
Becky O’Shea, an advanced practice registered nurse and coordinator of the Denton program, meets with each patient, providing educational support and resources for current smokers who want to quit. She communicates the results of the scan to the patient and referring physician’s office, usually within 24 hours of the screening.
“The best part of my job is being able to tell people that everything looks fine,” O’Shea said.
O’Shea also emphasizes the importance of follow-up screenings.
“It really is like a woman getting a mammogram,” O’Shea said. “Just because you don’t find anything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be screened again next year.”
Individuals who believe they may qualify for the program are encouraged to talk to their physician about a referral. Medicare and most private insurance plans cover eligible patient screenings.
*Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources hospitals.
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.