CINCINNATI - Lung cancer is the number one killer in the United States, and the Tri-State has a higher-than-average rate of the disease.
Unfortunately most people are diagnosed with more advanced cancer, making it more difficult to treat. Overall, about 15 percent of people survive lung cancer. In advanced stages, that shrinks to about 5 percent.
Unlike breast, colorectal and prostate cancers, until recently there was no nationally accepted lung cancer screening tool for the general population.
Unfortunately, the warning signs are subtle, and so most people are diagnosed too late to be treated. The good news is, there's a new screening program here in the Tri-State.
On April 5, 2005, ABC anchor Peter Jennings announced he had lung cancer. He died four months later, his death so soon after diagnosis all too typical.
"Unfortunately the majority of patients aren't curable nowadays.The reason being there's no symptoms of lung cancer until it's too late," said Dr. Starnes.
Doctor Sandra Starnes is the chief of thoracic surgery at the UC Cancer Institute. She wants people to know about a new CT lung cancer screening program for people at high risk for lung cancer.
Traditional chest X-ray produces a flat, two-dimensional picture. With CT scanning, the X-ray tube is rotated around the patient during the imaging test to create a 3-D picture of the chest.
Individuals who have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years and those with a prior lung cancer diagnosis are considered at increased risk according to the World Health Organization.
In 2011, the National Cancer Institute published data supporting chest CT scans as an effective lung cancer screening tool for a high-risk patient population. The study showed that when heavy smokers were screened with low-radiation dose CT scans versus traditional chest X-rays, there was a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer-related deaths. A separate UC-based trial evaluating chest CT scans in a population of 132 heavy smokers also supported the imaging technique as a viable screening tool in a high-risk population.
UC Professor John Maddux admits he started smoking when he was 16, and is considered high-risk.
"I thought, well, do I want to know? And I thought, 'I do want to know,'" said Maddux.
So Maddux had the screening, which revealed a nodule. He says there's no indication it's cancer, but he'll return for a second test in three months.
People who qualify for the screening include heavy smokers, those with a family history for lung cancer, or occupational hazards such as exposure to asbestos or radon.
For Maddux, the screening means peace of mind.
"I'd rather find out now than have an X-ray two years from now and say, 'well, it's too late now,'" said Maddox.
The warning signs of lung cancer can be subtle – chronic cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, etc.