Low-dose CT scanning, or low-dose computed tomography, is a valuable way for patients to discover whether they have underlying signs of lung cancer. When patients are screened for lung cancer before they have any symptoms, they can potentially save themselves from a great deal of pain and suffering in the years to come. Jim Gray, MD, a Mississippi physician, explores the benefits and risks of the low-dose CT scan. He describes the process and relates its meaning for potential lung cancer patients.
Candidates for Low-Dose CT Scanning
Smoking is one of the major causes of lung cancer. For former smokers, 5.5 percent of men and 2.6 percent of women will develop lung cancer. For current smokers, the rate jumps to 15.9 percent for men and 9.5 percent of women. Heavy smokers have dramatically higher rates of lung cancer. 24.4 percent of men and 18.5 percent of women will develop lung cancer.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, recommends that people who have a history of heavy smoking, who are still smoking now or have quit within the last 15 years and are between 55 and 80 years old should have the test annually. Heavy smoking is defined as having the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes each day for one year.
Smoking rates vary widely across the United States, and in Mississippi, 22.7 percent of adults smoke. This is compared to the national average of 17.1 percent.
Benefits and Risks
The benefits of low-dose CT scanning for lung cancer far outweigh the risks. For most heavy smokers, the danger of lung cancer is ever-present. CT scanning can help doctors pinpoint which of their patients need additional testing, screening, and possibly surgical intervention.
The risks of the screening are mainly associated with false positives. Sometimes, cancer screening tests can indicate that there is a problem where none exists. This can cause a patient to undergo unnecessary surgeries and tests that may carry more of a risk to their health.
Another risk of screening is known as overdiagnosis. This means that a problem which has never caused any issues for the patient may be overtreated. Some lung cancers are not aggressive and will not cause wide-ranging problems. It is important to have the scan in this case, but a competent radiologist like Jim Gray MD must be there to read the results of the scan and to recommend action going forward.
The test is expensive, and insurers may not pay for it unless the patient has a very high risk of lung cancer. Regardless, it is worth having the test to prevent potentially life-threatening cancers from taking hold in the body.
Finally, the yearly dose of radiation from the CT scan can potentially cause cancer in a healthy person. Given the damaging nature of lung cancer, it is generally worthwhile to have the test done anyway. Since the dosage is low by design, it is less likely to cause cancer than other forms of X-ray scanning.
The Process of Low-Dose CT Scanning
Computed tomography scans, also known as CT or CAT scans, utilize computer technology and X-rays to produce several different images of internal organs. Radiologists can then manipulate these scans to interpret their meaning for the patient. CT scans are better at pinpointing small cancer areas than X-rays alone. CT scans are best for the chest, pelvis, abdomen, or a single arm or leg.
Low-dose chest CT scans are different from traditional CT scans in a few ways. The primary difference is that the low-dose scan does not use as much radiation and is better for targeted scanning of the lungs. The low-dose CT scan is used mainly on patients who are at a very high risk of developing lung cancer, as in heavy smokers. The margin of error within the low-dose CT scan makes it less likely to succeed on a patient with a lower risk profile.
Smokers who are at a high risk of lung cancer are the most likely to benefit from this procedure. It is necessary that the patient be able to undergo chest surgery to remediate any problems that may be found. For patients who are more medically fragile and cannot withstand chest surgery, it may be wise to use other methods of detection.
A Potentially Life-Saving Test
Jim Gray MD, a radiologist in Mississippi, is a strong proponent of low-dose CT scanning for patients who are at high risk for lung cancer. Discovering whether a seemingly healthy patient has an underlying cancer risk can be vital to their future survival. Some forms of lung cancer are highly aggressive, meaning that if they are not treated, they will lead to severe health problems or even death. Dr. Gray reminds patients that life-saving screening techniques can lead to better health in the future.