Lung Screening Saving Lives

July 08, 2015

One patient's story:

“I had cancer taken out of the bottom of my lung,” Laurel Burt of Rimersburg, said. “Dr. Bansal found it!”
Burt is a patient of Dr. Sandeep Bansal, interventional pulmonologist and medical director at The Lung Center of Penn Highlands DuBois.

Burt was one of the many people referred to have a low-dose CT scan performed as a screening for lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the United States, causing more deaths than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. 

All four hospitals of Penn Highlands Healthcare offer CT lung cancer screenings for a fee to those who may be concerned and meet the screening criteria. Most insurances  cover the costs, but there is a self-pay option for those without insurance.

The lung cancer screening is done using low-dose radiation CT scan at PH DuBois, PH Brookville, PH Clearfield and PH Elk. It is noninvasive. It involves no prep or fasting beforehand. There is no IV or dye used, and the whole process takes about 15-20 minutes. 

Why is this an important screening tool? “Because catching cancer early allows for better results. Lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms in the earlier stages of the disease. So someone can have it and never know it. And even when symptoms do show up, some symptoms of lung cancer may not seem related to the lungs or breathing,” said Susan Mitchell, clinical director and nurse practitioner at The Lung Center at PH DuBois. 

In the past five months, approximately 500 referrals have been made –  a lot more than the 150 projected by Bansal and his team who supported this program’s creation.

Any spot greater than 4 millimeters is a finding. A number of people will have spots or findings, but only 3-4 percent of that population will have lung cancer. The majority of the nodules are benign, or non-cancerous.

“Once a nodule is found, a team of doctors will review the findings – the team includes pathologists from the lab, oncologists, radiologists, medical doctors, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons. This multi-disciplinary team will decide if these findings should be followed with a watchful waiting approach or if a biopsy should be pursued.” Bansal said. 

For Burt, it was decided that the nodule found in January should be removed and within two weeks, the cancer was taken out on Feb. 6.

Though any doctor can refer a patient or any patient can refer themselves, Burt was already a patient of Bansal as she had existing breathing problems that required his help. She has emphysema and COPD. 
“The test for this found it quickly,” Burt said. “I smoked for many years, probably 50 years. I quit a year and a half ago.”

She still has her other health problems. “But I will get through it. I really think Dr. Bansal saved my life. If he didn’t find that as quick as he did - who knows how far it would have went before anyone found it.”

For those who have ever smoked, the criteria for a low-dose CT scan may depend upon your insurance and your “pack years.” A “pack year” is a year that a person smoked 20 cigarettes, or one pack, every day for a year. For example, smoking one pack per day for 5 years equals “5 pack years.”  Smoking two packs a day for one year is two pack years, and for 10 years of smoking two packs per day is 20 pack years.

Medicare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and UPMC insurances require that you are between 55-77 years old and smoked for 30 pack years before the test is covered by insurance. Other insurances vary based on age and pack years. Some even go below age 55.

Penn Highlands also offers a self-pay option to those whose insurance companies will not pay for this screening and who are ages 55-80 years old and have smoked for 30 pack years. The cost is $99. 
The lung center offers a team of three highly trained nurse navigators, Candace Cole RN, Jessica Gerst LPN, and Morgan Ludwig, LPN, to help guide patients through the process.  

When referrals are made for lung cancer screening, either by physicians or patients themselves,  they will be contacted by Cole. She will interview each patient to determine if they meet the necessary criteria for screening. She follows up with each patient after their scan to discuss these results and navigate them towards appropriate care.  Cole also offers smoking cessation tips, tools and strategies to the participants.  
Gerst and Ludwig offer navigational support post screening through The Lung Center. They facilitate appointments with medical and radiation oncology as well as cardio-thoracic surgery if needed, ensuring that patients receive the highest level of care possible.  

If you would like to make an appointment for a low dose CT scan for lung cancer screening, talk to your primary care physician or call The Lung Center at 814-375-3770 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.