Quick, Painless, Convenient: How Low-Dose CT Scans at Williamson Medical Group’s Lung Nodule Clinic are Aiding the Fight against Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. In an effort to raise awareness and improve outcomes for lung cancer patients worldwide, a special coalition deemed November Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
In 2020, lung cancer was projected to cause nearly as many deaths as breast, colorectal and pancreatic cancers combined. Though when detected early, the likelihood of surviving five or more years improves to 59%.
“Studies have shown that screening high-risk patients can help find lung cancer before symptoms appear,” said Tufik Assad, M.D., interventional pulmonologist and director of critical care at Williamson Medical Center (WMC). “When caught early, lung cancer is easier to treat.”
Dr. Assad is also WMC’s cancer physician liaison for the Commission on Cancer as well as the medical director of Williamson Medical Group’s (WMG) lung nodule program, a screening program designed to identify abnormal nodules in patients’ lungs through low-dose CT screening.
“Low-dose CT screening is quick, painless and convenient,” said Assad. “These scans can detect even small lung cancers that are not visible on chest X-rays, and may reveal other lung diseases as well.”
WMC offers a range of screening and treatment options in the heart of Williamson County. Dr. Assad, along with interventional pulmonologist, Devin Sherman, M.D., provide advanced bronchoscopy services using endobronchial ultrasound, as well as navigational bronchoscopy.
“Navigational bronchoscopy uses a patient CT scan to create a digital map of the airways, allowing us to use instruments to access nodules distantly located in the lung,” said Sherman. “We are the only center in Middle Tennessee that uses the Veran navigation platform. Unlike other technologies, this platform allows us to biopsy nodules both through a scope in the airways as well as through the skin, all during a single procedure.”
The WMC lung screening team also includes a dedicated oncology and lung navigator, Cary Ralph, RN. In her role, Ralph individualizes a diagnostic and treatment plan for each patient, which includes addressing their barriers to care, counseling on recommended testing, educating them on their final diagnosis and supporting them through the complicated psychosocial stressors of their illness.
“At WMC, we believe that all patients deserve to understand the process as much as possible, so they can make informed decisions and actively participate in their care,” said Assad. “I also think one of the appeals of our program is top notch care close to home. That includes WMC’s incredible imaging center, state-of-the-art bronchoscopy equipment and having the best oncology and lung navigator in the state!”
Lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms until it has spread, so annual screenings are the only way to detect early stage lung cancer before symptoms develop. The American Lung Association recommends yearly screening for those who are 55-80 years of age, have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.) and are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years. Regular lung cancer screenings can reduce lung cancer mortality in these individuals by up to 20%.
“It’s important to note that the U.S. Preventive Task Force is in the final stages of approving new guidelines to open up lung cancer screening to more people who are at high risk of getting lung cancer,” said Cary Ralph, R.N. “It will recommend that adults ages 50-80 years of age who have a 20 pack-year smoking history, currently smoke, or have quit within the past 15 years take part in annual lung screening.”
While the greatest risk factor for lung cancer is tobacco use, other environmental or genetic factors can also put individuals at a higher risk. These include air pollutants, prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos or radon gases, a family history of lung cancer and work-related exposure to solvents and other cancer-causing chemicals.
The American Lung Association recommends taking these steps to reduce these risks:
- Never smoke or stop smoking now. If you smoke, talk to your doctor, contact the Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA) or visit Lung.org/stop-smoking for more information about ways to help you quit.
- Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Test your home for radon. If your home tests high, contact a certified radon contractor to repair your home and fix the problem.
- Make sure you are safe around hazardous materials in the workplace and at home.
Early detection through routine screening remains crucial to catching lung cancer in its early stages. To schedule an appointment with a Williamson Medical Group lung specialist, call (615) 790-4159.