MedWatch Today: Lung Cancer Screening Program aims to detect disease early


Lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States in both men and women. It claims more lives each year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined. Fortunately, the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Community Medical Centers aims to help patients get screened and detect lung cancer as early as possible.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in this country. Dr. Kathryn Bilello is the Medical Director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program. She said, “Sadly by the time most people are diagnosed with lung cancer, most of them don’t survive and in fact five year survival for lung cancer is only about 18-percent.”

Dr. Bilello has seen the devastating effects of lung cancer, not only in patients, but also in their families.

“It’s huge, there’s a high prevalence of lung cancer and as you well know there are many medically economically disadvantaged people who live in the Central Valley who have poor access to health care and we need to reach them,” said Dr. Bilello.

Dr. Bilello said the Lung Cancer Screening Program is one of the best ways to detect lung cancer early because by the time symptoms appear, cancer may have already spread. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat.

If you are between the ages of 55 and 77 and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for at least 15 years, you might be a candidate for this program.

“People who are either active smokers or former smokers, and if they’re former smokers they have to have not quit more than 15 years ago,” stated Dr. Bilello.

Shelley Krikorian is the Lung Cancer Screening Program coordinator. She speaks with every patient who goes through the program and walks them through the process.

She said, “We’ve seen about 550 patients. From those 550 patients, four patients have been diagnosed with lung cancer, three of those patients were stage one, which is a very early stage, that’s a fantastic finding, and then one of them was a stage three.”

Once patients are enrolled, they will be carefully followed by the Lung Cancer Screening team and receive a low-dose CT scan every year. Shelley said it’s been gratifying to watch the Lung Cancer Screening Program grow.

“Being a nurse, my goal is to educate patients and to make them aware of what’s out there to keep them healthy, to prolong their life,” stated Shelley.

Dr. Bilello said the ultimate goal is to continue to help patients detect lung cancer early because that is the only way to increase survival rates.

She added, “People just aren’t really aware yet of lung cancer screening even though it’s been out there for a while and many people at risk for lung cancer are not being reached. So, I do hope that by having this segment out there that people will say, ‘Hey, I fit those characteristics. I want to make sure that I don’t get it’.”

Dr. Bilello reminds, the Lung Cancer Screening Program is not a perfect test and a patient may still develop lung cancer. But, by getting screened annually, it could offer a chance for survival.

For more information and to find out if you’re the right candidate for the Lung Cancer Screening Program, click here.

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