Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and kills more than 160,000 people in the U.S. each year — more than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Unlike breast, prostate and other cancers, there are no tools to diagnose lung cancer early.
Now Rush University Medical Center is part of an international effort to evaluate the effectiveness of a screening test that may provide early detection of lung cancer. Known as the International Early Lung Cancer Action Project (I-ELCAP), the collaboration brings together 48 major academic medical centers in nine countries.
Physicians at Rush will study the use of spiral computerized tomography (CT) scanning to detect tiny nodules in the lungs that could be cancer in its earliest stages. CT scans can detect tumors that are smaller than a pea and previous research has shown CT scans can detect lung cancer growths that are often not visible on a chest x-ray. Unfortunately, by the time tumors are large enough to be viewed on a chest x-ray, the cancer is often too advanced to be cured.
"The goal of this study is to see if we can detect and diagnose lung cancers in the very earliest stage," says Mark Yoder, MD, the lead investigator of the study and assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care at Rush. "Stage one is the only stage at which cure by surgery is highly likely."
Physicians across the country have been debating the effectiveness of using CT scans for early detection of lung cancer, but recent research studies have provided promising evidence that CT screening for lung cancer could offer new hope for millions of people at risk for this disease. Two recent modeling studies have shown that low-dose CT screening of a high-risk population may result in a reduction of lung cancer deaths comparable to what mammography screening has done to reduce deaths from breast cancer. The technology is not an approved modality for lung cancer screening, but has proven to be a potent visualization tool.
"Lung cancer is a very common and deadly disease and the way it is treated now is very disappointing. This study evaluates how safely we can deliver lung cancer screening care," says Yoder. "We want to optimally manage early lung cancer."
According to Yoder, Rush researchers are also looking at the relationship of developing lung cancer in individuals with COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease), a disorder that usually indicates a person is particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of cigarette smoke.
"This technology may help cut down on the number of lung cancer deaths by allowing physicians to catch the disease early and surgically remove the lesions before they grow and spread through the body," says Philip Bonomi, MD, director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Rush University Medical Center. "This test could possibly be an important tool in fighting lung cancer, which has a dismal five year survival rate of only 15 percent."
If the study radiologist detects an abnormal looking nodule, the multidisciplinary lung cancer screening team will determine the appropriate next step.
One of the ongoing goals of the study is to continue to refine the screening process to minimize the number of unnecessary biopsies. Patients identified as having an abnormal CT will receive follow-up care with a study physician at Rush, and those with normal scans will be invited to continue screening on an annual basis.
Rush is seeking participants who are current or former smokers and who are 50 years of age or older. For more information about the study, please contact Josephine Volgi, study coordinator, at (312) 563-2741.
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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