The Lung Cancer Screening Program at Houston Methodist Cancer Center helps individuals who are at high risk for lung cancer receive a diagnosis and treatment plan at an early stage, when the disease is easier to treat and possibly cure.
The program includes several components:
- Annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans
- Consultations from health care providers
- Access to tobacco cessation programs
- Referrals to Houston Methodist specialists if disease is found
Benefits of Lung Cancer Screening
Despite the need for early diagnosis, only recently has an effective screening method for lung cancer been found. Early screening offers the possibility of early detection for current and former heavy smokers. In a recent study, participants who received low-dose helical CT scans to detect lung cancer showed a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths compared with those who received standard chest X-rays. The trial, funded by the National Cancer Institute, is the basis of program development at Houston Methodist.
Who should be screened?
Houston Methodist follows the guidelines for screening from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery:
- individuals 55 to 80 years of age with a history of heavy smoking are eligible. Heavy smoking is considered to be 30 pack-years or more. For example, a person who smoked one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years would both have a history of 30-pack years.
- Candidates for screening include people who currently smoke and people who quit within the past 15 years.
Lung Cancer Screening Process
Your screening will involve a low-dose, single-breath-hold CT scan of your lungs, which will be read by a board-certified radiologist. You will be contacted by a Houston Methodist health care professional to discuss the results and, if a suspicious nodule is detected, an evaluation plan will be developed.
What happens if something is found in the screening?
Findings on lung screening CT scan range from no disease to findings considered very concerning for cancer. Based on previously published studies, more than 95 percent of the initially suspicious nodules identified within the lung are diagnosed as noncancerous.
There are some findings that are minor (such as a scar), mildly concerning (such as early emphysema that is not symptomatic), concerning (such as a nodule that may be cancer) and very concerning (a nodule that is very concerning for cancer). A “positive” study is one that has a finding that is not minor or benign. The majority of positive studies are not cancer (called a false positive study). This is because many things resemble a cancer on CT, such as a small focal pneumonia or a round scar from previous infection. Even so, the low dose CT scan is a breakthrough method to detect early lung cancer.
The diagnosis of cancer is not made from the screening CT, but is determined after further work up and usually requires a biopsy to confirm.
Who is not a candidate for screening?
Individuals with a history of lung cancer, unexplained weight loss greater than 15 pounds in the past year, a history of coughing up blood or who have not smoked a cigarette in more than 15 years will not be offered a lung cancer screening at this point in time. If you are found to have symptoms or have a problem that requires a diagnostic CT scan, one will be ordered for you instead of a screening CT scan.
Not everyone should be screened for lung cancer. Because radiation from the scan is potentially harmful, patients who are at the highest risk for developing lung cancer are only being considered for this program.
In the event a nodule is diagnosed, you will have a scheduled evaluation of that nodule that is based on the risk appearance. Your doctors will take every precaution possible to avoid unnecessary invasive tests while evaluating these nodules.
How do I make an appointment?
To schedule an appointment to discuss whether you are a candidate for screening, call Houston Methodist at 713.441.LUNG (5864). If you fit the criteria, you will be scheduled for a consultation with a health care professional, followed immediately by a low-dose CT scan.
To learn more about lung cancer screening from a Houston Methodist physician, click here to read “10 Things to Know About Lung Cancer Screenings” by Reginald Munden, MD, chair of the radiology department at Houston Methodist.
Our physicians specialize in managing lung cancer at the following convenient Houston Methodist Cancer Center locations.