Lung cancer screenings detect problems earlier, save lives

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 6, 2014) — Peter Jennings, the suave anchor and reporter of ABC News, died of it. So did movie stars Steve McQueen and Vincent Price, and one of opera’s most renowned divas, Beverly Sills.

An estimated 224,000 new cases of lung and bronchial cancer will be diagnosed in Americans this year, and the disease is expected to kill 159,000. Fellowship-trained thoracic surgeon Daniel DeArmond, M.D., of the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said people need to be as vigilant about screening for lung cancer as they are for other types of cancer.

“We mainly screen for three cancers in the U.S. – colon, breast and prostate,” Dr. DeArmond said. “If you look at the stage at which we catch those, 60 percent to 70 percent have stage one or two cancer, which is very early disease. The treatment options are much broader and more likely to be successful.

“If you look at lung cancer, where there traditionally has not been any screening, we generally catch disease at stage three or four, when it is significantly advanced. We aren’t catching it at stage one or two when we can do something about it. Those statistics have not changed for decades.”

The South Texas Lung Institute, a multidisciplinary program established this year by Baptist Health System, is a collaboration of local imaging centers, area physicians, including UT Medicine San Antonio, health care resources and a nurse navigator focused on treating lung disease and lung cancer patients.

The South Texas Lung Institute, housed at St. Luke’s Baptist Hospital, is a unique resource for the community and the region, bringing together lung specialists, cancer specialists, surgeons, radiologists, pulmonologists, pathologists and primary care physicians from the medical school and the greater medical community of San Antonio. “The South Texas Lung Institute is a whole system that knows how to take care of people,” Dr. DeArmond said.

The process may begin with a referral from a primary care physician for a low-dose screening CT scan of the chest and, if cancer is suspected, a prospective discussion of the case at the multidisciplinary South Texas Lung Institute thoracic tumor board. Surgery is performed, if indicated, and clinical follow-up completes the process.

Dr. DeArmond and colleagues Scott Johnson, M.D., fellowship-trained thoracic surgeon with UT Medicine, and medical oncologist Ahmad Wehbi, M.D., of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, would like to shift the pendulum toward detection of lung cancer at an early stage so that surgical cure is still possible.

Lung cancer is a very aggressive cancer, but it can still be cured if treated early. Dr. DeArmond said a large, multicenter clinical research study, the National Lung Screening Trial, demonstrated that, even in heavy smokers who smoked a pack a day for 30 years or more, diagnosis of cancers in stages one or two (early) could increase five-year survival in lung cancer patients from just 5 percent to at least 60 percent.

“The South Texas Lung Institute exists to do this service, to spare many from unnecessary suffering and premature death,” Dr. DeArmond said.

Individuals and physicians who are interested in the screening program are invited to call the institute, located at St. Luke’s Baptist Hospital, at 210-297-LUNG (5864).

Share This Article!