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Good News for Long-term Smokers: A Quick Test Can Save Your Life

Good News for Long-term Smokers:  A Quick Test Can Save Your LifeLocally owned and operated since 1973, Radiology Associates of Ocala (RAO) has earned its respected reputation and longevity serving Marion County for many reasons, one of them being RAO’s commitment to early discovery and diagnosis of treatable diseases like lung cancer. Lung cancer, which is the number one cause of cancer death among Americans, can be successfully treated when it is caught early, making it important for high-risk patients to consider lung cancer screening as part of their regular healthcare plan.

Who is at Considered at High Risk of Getting Lung Cancer?
In the U.S., 80-90% of lung cancer cases are linked to heavy, long-term tobacco smoking, making it the single biggest cause of the disease. People at the greatest risk are those 55 and older who have reached 30 “pack years” – a figure calculated by multiplying the number of years you have smoked by the number of packs smoked per day. For example: 1 pack a day x 30 years or 2 packs a day x 15 years = 30 pack years.

You are also considered at high risk if you are age 50 or older with a 20 pack-year history and at least one other risk factor, such as a personal or family history of lung disease. For example, 1 pack a day x 20 years + asthma, or an immediate relative with lung disease, places you in a high-risk category. Anyone age 50 or older who is currently a heavy smoker or once was and quit within the past 15 years may be a candidate for lung cancer screening, since cancer can lurk in the lungs without producing symptoms for years after a person quits.

“Once a patient produces actual symptoms, like a nagging cough, wheezing or shortness of breath, it usually signifies the cancer has spread outside the lungs, where it can be difficult or impossible to treat,” says Board Certified radiologist Dr. Kerry Raduns. “That’s why it’s imperative that high-risk patients get routine annual screenings while they’re still symptom-free, before cancer has had a chance to spread. When it is still localized to the lung, cancer is usually highly treatable.”

Lung Cancer Screening at RAO
Low Dose Computed Tomography, or LDCT, is a specialized low-radiation CT scan of the chest that can reveal exceptional detail of early changes and disease in the lungs. LDCT captures a series of images that can be viewed by RAO radiologists and your clinician on a computer screen in nearly 3-dimensional detail. “With LDCT, we can see even the tiniest abnormalities, well before they can cause symptoms,” says Board Certified radiologist Dr. John Scales. “We at RAO, as well as the American Lung Association, highly recommend annual LDCT screening for all long-term smokers.” The test is quick and painless, with much less ionizing radiation than conventional diagnostic CT of the chest, so it is considered safe. Says Dr. Scales, “The potential benefits to at-risk patients are tremendous.”

Tremendous indeed, because LDCT has been proven to dramatically reduce the chance of lung cancer death among heavy smokers. The National Cancer Institute sponsored a randomized clinical trial of more than 53,000 current and former heavy tobacco smokers ages 55 – 74, in which participants were given either a standard chest x-ray or LDCT annually for three years. Those who received LDCT experienced superior discovery of nodules in the lung while they were still small and isolated and could be medically treated, resulting in 20% fewer lung cancer deaths than those who received conventional chest x-rays. This translates to roughly one out of five lives being saved through early discovery using LDCT versus x-ray.

“If you’re the one in five whose cancer was caught early by LDCT screening, that is of course extremely significant,” says Board Certified radiologist John Cain, who specializes in diagnostic radiology. “And it takes only minutes to perform, which makes it convenient as well.”

How the Test is Performed
This non-invasive test is completely painless. You will simply be asked to lie motionless on a table for a few moments while the scanner passes over your chest. Depending on your case, a contrast agent may be used to provide enhanced detail. In just a few minutes the scan is complete. Your doctor will contact you with your results.

Do I Need a Referral?
Yes, this test is offered only with a qualified clinician’s referral. It may be 100% covered by Medicare, so ask your healthcare provider if he or she thinks it may be beneficial given your age and personal and/or family history. Currently, people ages 55-77 with a 30 pack-year smoking history and referral are eligible to have their scans covered by Medicare.

Where Does RAO Offer LDCT?
RAO offers Low Dose Computed Tomography lung screening at our Medical Imaging Center and TimberRidge Imaging Center. We offer advanced CT imaging technology for enhanced safety, accuracy and peace of mind.

For more information, contact RAO or your healthcare clinician to find out if LDCT screening might be right for you.

Radiology Associates of Ocala

(352) 671-4300  |  www.RAOcala.com

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