The innovative Blount Memorial chest-health center introduced in 2016 already is producing promising results. Using a three-pronged approach, the multidisciplinary chest-health program is helping physicians identify and treat more early-stage lung cancers, explains Blount Memorial board-certified pulmonologist Dr. Greg LeMense.
“Over the first year of the program, we have seen a move toward earlier stages,” says LeMense. “38 percent of the newly diagnosed lung cancers are stage 1 or 2, as opposed to 23 percent previously. We also saw an overall increase in the number of lung cancers being diagnosed. Compared with the 85 cases diagnosed in 2012, we diagnosed 104 cases in the first year of the program. This is not because the incidence of lung cancer is increasing, but instead due to the earlier detection of lung cancer.”
Helping boost diagnosis rates is the chest-health center’s three-step line of attack in the fight against lung cancer. Step one is screening people at high risk for lung cancer (such as current or former heavy smokers ages 55-75) using low-dose CT [computed tomography] scanning. Step two is identifying incidental lung nodules found on any CT scans performed at Blount Memorial for any reason. Step three is fast-tracking the diagnosis and management of patients with a newly identified lung nodule or other lung disease.
While it’s too early to determine if Blount Memorial’s robust lung cancer-screening program will reduce lung cancer deaths in Blount County, LeMense says the initial numbers indicate a positive trend. “It takes five years to determine if a patient has truly been cured from their lung cancer,” he explains. “However, just the fact that more patients are being diagnosed with early stage lung cancer will result in better outcomes, since the five-year survival for a stage 1 lung cancer is about 85 percent, while the five-year survival for a stage 4 lung cancer is less than 15 percent.”
He adds, “Our goal is to reach a point where the numbers have flipped, and we are diagnosing stage 1 and 2 lung cancers 77 percent of the time. This will be the only way we will seriously impact outcomes in lung cancer. Treatments for all stages of lung cancer are improving, but there will always be a better outcome seen with cancers that are detected and treated at an early stage.”
For more information about early lung cancer screenings at Blount Memorial or to make an appointment, call the Blount Memorial radiology department at 865-981-2288 or East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864.