A Publication of WTVP

Area medical providers are at the forefront of the fight against lung cancer.

With lung cancer cited as the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming 150,000 American lives each year, early detection can be crucial for survival. Fortunately for central Illinois residents, Peoria-area medical groups are at the forefront of collaborative lung cancer screening, seeking to combat a disease that has a five-year survival rate of just 16 percent.

Dr. Richard Anderson, thoracic surgeon at Peoria Surgical Group, sees patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer. He explains the joint venture between the Lung Cancer Clinic and the Thoracic Surgical Center of Excellence at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center employs the latest medical technologies to help detect and combat lung cancer.

Screening for Cancer
While there is no universally accepted screening test for lung cancer, some studies suggest low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) is currently the best screening option for high-risk patients. Dr. Anderson notes the LDCT uses less radiation and detects smaller spots on the lung than the chest x-ray.

High-risk patients include adults in their late 50s to mid-60s with a history of smoking a pack a day for more than 20 years, as well as additional factors ranging from a family history of cancer to occupational exposure.

Like all forms of radiation, the LDCT carries some risks, but Dr. Anderson says they are far outweighed by the potential benefits. “The LDCT risks are relatively minimal because it is not an extensive scan,” he explains. “The test picks up not only lung cancer, but other diseases you may potentially have that can be intervened on earlier rather than later. It is almost a form of preventative care.”

In 2010, the National Lung Screening Trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute showed a 20-percent decline in lung cancer deaths among current or former heavy smokers with a low-dose CT scan compared to those screened by chest x-ray. While the relatively new scan is not covered by most insurance companies, Dr. Anderson says area hospitals have worked to make it affordable, with costs typically between $150 and $200. In addition, local medical facilities occasionally offer some degree of free screening in conjunction with Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November or similar events.

But the LDCT is just one aspect of combating lung cancer. The collaborative efforts of area medical organizations places central Illinois at the forefront of saving lives from this deadly form of cancer.

A More Efficient Approach
Dr. Anderson cites the Mayo Clinic model—noted for its efficient, integrated team and multidisciplinary approach—as a system many health organizations seek to replicate. In central Illinois, pulmonologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and radiologists are all working together to develop and execute individualized plans for patient care.

“All of the physicians involved in taking care of someone with lung cancer get together at one moment in time to discuss the patients,” Dr. Anderson explains. “That’s a very focused, organized care plan set up so expedited care can be given to patients.” The results of this collaboration speak for themselves.

“It used to be that it would take anywhere from 45 to 60 days from the time someone was diagnosed with cancer to the time they had therapy,” he notes. “We’ve been able to decrease the time from when they are diagnosed with lung cancer to the time they receive their first therapy to 14 days in the majority of cases.”

Lung Cancer Trends
While smoking has declined substantially among the population since peaking in the 1950s, the prevalence of lung cancer has remained high, accounting for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. “There is something called the time-lag effect,” says Dr. Anderson. “If you smoked [in the past], you may develop cancer today, as it can take years to develop.”

For this reason, he foresees lung cancer rates remaining high as the generations with the highest smoking rates grow older. While women have a lower lung cancer incidence rate than men, lung cancer in women has been on the rise for nearly three decades. “The ‘50s were a big time for women to become equal to men in a lot of ways,” he notes. “One way was that many women starting smoking.”

While lung cancer is often connected to smoking, creating a stigmatization of the disease, lung cancer can develop for many other reasons. Radon exposure in the home is the second-leading cause, and genetics have been found to play a role as well.

Regardless of gender or cause, medical providers in central Illinois are working together, using the most advanced lung cancer screening test to detect and attack lung cancer as early as possible. “We’re really trying to be on the forefront of lung cancer screenings and lung cancer therapy,” explains Dr. Anderson. iBi

To learn if you are a good candidate for the LDCT lung cancer screening, call (309) 624-3041 to speak to a lung cancer clinic care navigator.