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Long-Term Smokers: This Program Could Save Your Life

Could a pain-free, low-risk screening help prevent lung cancer deaths? Would you take such a test if it was available to you?

Lung cancer takes a heavy toll on Americans. It’s the third most common cancer diagnosis and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths nationwide. This startling fact is because lung cancer is often diagnosed in the late stages – past the point when treatments are effective.

But, lung cancer can be cured if it’s found early enough.

Recent studies are pointing to low-dose computed tomography (CT) as a new hope for detecting lung cancer as early as possible in current and former smokers. Wentworth-Douglass Hospital offers this screening to our primary care patients who are current smokers or who have quit in the past 15 years. (See Am I Eligible? below.)

Wentworth-Douglass’s Lung Cancer Screening Program offers the latest low-dose CT technology. The screening itself is quick and painless, and the radiation exposure is similar to that of a mammogram or chest X-ray. Each patient’s chest CT is reviewed by a board certified radiologist with expertise in chest imaging.

If follow-up is needed, thoracic surgery, pulmonary medicine and oncology experts work together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. A dedicated Nurse Navigator is also there to support and guide patients through additional testing, follow-up care and treatments.

“It is rewarding to be able to offer an established lung cancer screening process to our high risk patients,” says Matthew Goldberg, DO, a Wentworth Health Partners primary care physician. “Wentworth-Douglass’s program simplifies the process for our patients and providers, and ensures appropriate follow-through is coordinated.”

“It is wonderful to be able to add lung cancer to the list of cancers for which screening is now available. Detecting lung cancer in its earliest stage will provide an opportunity to intervene when the cancer is still manageable. Increasing access to this screening for patients in our community will be a real game changer. This program is meeting a critical need and putting a powerful tool in the hands of primary care providers,” says Nancy Pettinari, MD, Wentworth Health Partners Medical Director and an internal medicine provider with Primary Care of Dover.

Early Diagnosis Saves Lives

A persistent cough is frequently the first sign of trouble, but by then it’s often too late and the cancer has spread too far past the stage where it can be managed. That’s why early detection is so important.

“Early detection of lung cancer can greatly reduce suffering and mortality, compared to diagnosis after symptoms begin,” says Dr. Goldberg.

In fact, studies have shown that annual low-dose CT scans lower the risk of death by 20 percent for people who are high risk, including smokers. The benefits are significant, but no test is perfect. The scans can find false positives – something that turns out to be benign. In addition, about 5 to 10 percent of patients who are scanned will have an abnormality in another area, such as the kidney, liver or thyroid, which requires additional imaging tests or a referral to a specialist.

Low-dose CT lung screenings have proven to be so effective that they are covered as preventative care by many insurance providers, including Medicare.

Prevention is Best

Of course, quitting smoking is your best defense against lung cancer. If you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past, keep trying – each attempt will help you reach your goal.

Each patient who’s eligible for the Lung Cancer Screening Program will have the opportunity to discuss with their providers the options and resources available to help them quit.

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital’s Pulmonary Medicine Department also offers a smoking cessation program. These one-on-one counseling sessions set step-by-step goals to help patients succeed. Many insurance providers cover up to eight sessions.

Am I Eligible?

To be eligible for the Lung Cancer Screening Program, you must meet these criteria:

1) You are between 55 and 77 years old
2) You are currently a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years.
3) You have smoked 30 or more "pack years" of cigarettes. (An average of a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.)
4) Speak to your Wentworth Health Partners primary care physician
for more information.

Learn More 

The Lung Cancer Screening Program is open to patients with a Wentworth Health Partners primary care provider. Talk to him or her to find out if you are eligible for this annual screening. If you need a provider, call the Wentworth Health Partners Referral Service at (603) 740-2377, and we can help you choose one who is right for you.


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