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Screening brings hope

Clinic opens to catch lung cancer earlier

WARREN — The deadliest cancer in Trumbull County — and the United States — is lung cancer.

It’s also one of the most difficult to catch early. By the time a person exhibits symptoms, the cancer usually already has spread, oncology nurse Kathryn Martin, the lung nodule navigator at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, said.

“Sadly, most lung cancers are found in the third and fourth stage where there are limited things we can do,” Martin said.

In hopes of changing the statistics, Trumbull Regional has unveiled a Lung Cancer Screening Program as well as a lung cancer clinic.

The screening, which began this summer, uses a low-dose CT scanner that produces high-quality images of the chest, allowing physicians to find irregularities in the lungs that a typical X-ray can’t, Martin said. The 15-minute CT X-ray provides three-dimensional images that show precise information about the size, shape and position of any lung tumors.

“It’s a screening exam similar to a mammogram,” Martin said. “Same premise — we’re looking for something. We’re looking for anything that’s really small. (But) not every nodule is cancer.”

Dr. Anthony Boulos, a pulmonologist, said, “The whole goal is to discover cancer nodules early enough that we can have them surgically resected and cured.”

Studies show there is a 20 percent reduction in the mortality rate when early screening catches cancer nodules, Boulos said.

“The problem is we’re catching cancer later and later, and once it reaches a certain stage, you can’t remove it, and it’s chemotherapy and radiation (as the only options),” he said.

“We saw this as an opportunity to help the community,” Boulos said. “We know time is of the essence.”

The new lung cancer clinic that opened this month pulls all services together under one roof.

“It’s enhanced access and convenience of care,” Martin said. “Our Lung Cancer Screening Program goes far beyond just a test. We have an all-inclusive program that supports our patients from the initial conversation all the way through diagnosis and follow-up.

“It’s like rowers in a boat — we go the same direction,” she said.

The screening is recommended for high-risk individuals — anyone between the ages 55 to 77 with at least a 30-year smoking history of one pack per day, or a 20-year smoking history of two packs per day, especially if they continue to smoke or have quit within the last 15 years. Referrals will be made through primary care physicians.

“If someone fits the category, I’d encourage them to seek out their health care provider or come to our office,” Boulos said.

If no problem is spotted, the person will be screened again in another year. If nothing shows after three, it means the likelihood of developing lung cancer is low and annual screenings will stop, he said.

If a nodule is spotted, it will trigger additional screenings and treatments based on the size of the nodule. The hope is to remove all cancerous nodules before they have a chance to spread.

The lung cancer causes are both genetic and geographic, he said. While a person may be predisposed to lung cancer, factors such as smoking or exposure to certain chemicals in the region can contribute.

One obstacle people site for not seeking screenings is that not all insurances pay for it, Boulos said.

“We have resources in play to help us assist (patients) and get those things taken care of,” he said.

The test is covered by Medicare and most other health insurance plans, Martin said.

Years ago, Trumbull Regional offered lung cancer screenings but it was discontinued. Since acquiring the hospital, Steward Health decided to bring it back with more up-to-date equipment and with the all-inclusive clinic, Martin said.

This type of screening has been the health care standard after years of research, Boulos said.

“The data just got published. I was one of 1,500 co-authors,” Boulos said. “It took about a decade to collect the information.”

Studies had to be repeated and validated to make sure this was the way, he said.

Screenings are available at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, 1350 E. Market St., Warren, where the clinic is set up, and Steward Health Center, Elm Road Center for Radiology, 2586 Elm Road, Building B, Bazetta.

bcole@tribtoday.com

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