WellStar Health System, a network of hospitals and private doctors in suburban Atlanta, has screened nearly 900 people since 2008. Less than 3 percent were referred for lung biopsies because of suspicious findings, and of those, 70 percent turned out to have lung cancer, said screening coordinator Vickie Beckler.
The system generally follows the advice of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a group of top cancer centers, but eligibility for scans is "a very fluid area" that's being refined, she said. Patients younger than 50 need a doctor's referral for a scan, but if they want one and have major risk factors, "it should be their prerogative to have access to screening as long as they understand the risks and benefits involved and come to that decision with their physician," she said.
Kathy DeJoseph, 62, of suburban Atlanta, is glad she was screened as part of a study at WellStar. Several years of scans found nothing but last year, one detected cancer.
"I'd have been dead had I not had that scan," she said. "I was very, very lucky."
She also finally quit smoking after 40 years to qualify for lung cancer surgery.
Counseling smokers on how to quit is part of the Cancer Society's guidance. Having a scare from a scan "is a great motivator for people to quit smoking — fear that they might have had lung cancer, that they dodged a bullet, really causes people to change and take a look at their behavior," Wender said.
People also should be told that a normal scan doesn't mean no change is needed.
"The absolute worse thing that would happen" is people thinking "now I'm safe and I can continue smoking," he said.
Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute: http://1.usa.gov/UZq7Vt
Marilynn Marchione can be followed at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP