Thompson Health is trying to raise awareness about the free lung cancer screening it offers — which can increase chances of survival

CANANDAIGUA — Doctors at UR Medicine Thompson Hospital are working to increase local participation in free lung cancer screenings, stressing that early detection can help save lives.

More people in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society estimates about 228,150 new cases of lung cancer and about 142,670 deaths from lung cancer in the United States this year.

“Our goal is to change the course of this disease and make it beatable,” said Dr. Ben Wandtke, Thompson’s Chief of Diagnostic Imaging and Medical Director of Nuclear Medicine. Wandtke also chairs the hospital’s Population Health Management Committee, which has been focused on spreading the word about low-dose lung cancer screenings.

Thompson began offering the screening in 2017. It is used to detect lung cancer before symptoms appear. The test requires a referral from one’s primary care physician.

The American Cancer Society recommends that people with a history of heavy smoking (at least a 30-pack-year smoking history), who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and who are between ages 55 and 74 and in fairly good health get the screening yearly.

The screening takes roughly five minutes and causes no discomfort. Results are given in about a week. The screening is covered by Medicare and the majority of private health insurance plans for those who meet the criteria.

What makes this screening important is the fact that it can detect lung cancer at an early stage when the disease may be easier to treat, Wandtke explained.

Lung cancer symptoms, such as coughing up blood, only occur once cancer is advanced. At that time, data shows patients have a 10 percent or lower chance of beating the disease. In contrast, lung cancer found early and treated can mean a greater than 50 percent chance of survival, Wandtke said.

Since it is a relatively new screening test, Thompson’s Population Health Committee has been working to increase its visibility.

The group first focused on educating health care providers about the test and its eligibility requirements; the next step is increasing community awareness.

Results show the committee’s efforts are working. In less than four months, those eligible for the screening in Thompson’s service area who have had it done has risen to over 30 percent, up from 15 percent, Wandtke noted.

Dr. Cynthia Teerlinck, a primary care physician with Thompson and member of its Population Health Management Committee, says lung cancer diagnoses are something all primary care doctors see, and the early screening can result in a better outcome for the patient.

In fact, the early screening has already helped some of Teerlinck’s patients, including one Canandaigua man who was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer after a spot on his lung was identified during the screen. That patient was able to undergo surgery and be successfully treated, emerging cancer-free.

“Having this tool really makes a difference,” Teerlinck says.

If you think you may be eligible for a low-dose lung cancer screening, speak to your primary care physician about a referral.