Last month, the VCU Medical Center became the first facility in Virginia to administer free lung cancer screenings.
November was Lung Cancer Awareness month, and the VCU department of Radiology provided free lung cancer screenings for people with a history of smoking. Anyone ages 55-80 with a 30-pack-per-year history within the last 15 years was eligible.
“Lung cancer is a sneaky disease, it can actually hide in your body for two to 21 years before displaying any symptoms, and by the time it is detected it has spread to other parts of the body,” said Mark Parker, M.D., the VCU medical center’s director of thoracic imaging.
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and is one of the four most common types of cancer alongside colon, breast and prostate cancer. At only 17.8 percent, the cancer also has the lowest survival rate of the other four most common cancers.
Of the four most common cancers, lung cancer is also the only one without routine screenings encouraged in the medical field.
Screenings for colon, breast and prostate cancer are conducted regularly, especially for individuals above the age of forty.
“Part of VCU’s initiative is to create awareness in the community around us that this program is available,” Parker said.
The effects of smoking are known all too well in Richmond, where the largest Marlboro manufacturing plant is located. Virginia ranks 24th lowest in smoking rates and in Virginia the American Cancer Society estimates 5,300 people will die from lung cancer in 2014.
Furthermore, chest CT screenings, which are not the same as chest X-rays, are not currently covered under preventative care by health insurance providers, but may be added to exchange plans in January 2015.
While November offered free lung cancer screenings for those eligible, they are provided for a fee year-round as well. Prices are subject to individual health insurance plans. The VCU Medical center also offers consultation for those seeking assistance to quit smoking.
In 2011 the National Cancer Institute released tests that showed lung cancer can now be identified early through effectively harmless chest screenings that last less than 20 seconds and contain low-doses of radiation.
Lung cancer screenings are proven to reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. During a screening the lungs are analyzed for nodules or masses appearing as spots on the image.