How to Detect Lung Cancer Before It’s Too Late

November 12, 2018
Lung Cancer risk factors for CL

If you’re a longtime smoker of cigarettes, the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer, New Hanover Regional Medical Center offers quick and painless screening that could save your life.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s also the leading cause of death from cancer.

“If lung cancer is caught earlier there are more treatment options and better outcomes for the patient,” said Kim Sink of NHRMC Health and Diagnostics. “Screening for high-risk patients is the best way to diagnose lung cancer in its earlier, more treatable stage.”

Sink said you should be screened for lung cancer if you are between the ages of 55 and 77, are a smoker or have quit in the past 15 years and have a smoking history of at least 30 pack years, meaning you smoked one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

The screening isn’t a one-and-you’re-done proposition.

“Screening high risk-individuals annually will help to diagnose and treat lung cancer in its earlier stages,” Sink said.

NHRMC offers an annual program to screen high-risk patients until they have been a nonsmoker for 16 years or reach age 78, she said, adding, “Patients and healthcare providers will receive reminder letters for recommended short-term follow-up and annual exams.”

Recommended screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening for lung cancer.

The National Lung Screening Trial showed a dramatic 20 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths among high-risk patients screening yearly with low-dose CT scans of the chest compared to patients screened with standard chest X-rays, The New England Journal of Medicine reports.

“X-ray used to be the preferred method. By the time a nodule could be seen, however, the disease had already progressed,” Sink said. “Low-dose CT screening is now the standard of care.”

NHRMC offers low-dose CT screening at several locations, including:

  • NHRMC Orthopedic Hospital

  • NHRMC Health & Diagnostics Brunswick Forest

  • NHRMC Health & Diagnostics Medical Mall

  • NHRMC Health & Diagnostics Military Cutoff

  • NHRMC Health & Diagnostics North (Scotts Hill)

  • New Hanover Medical Group Myrtle Grove

  • New Hanover Medical Group Ogden

  • Pender Memorial Hospital

If you have a physician referral, you can call 910.667.8777 to schedule an appointment at a location convenient to you.

Medicare provides coverage for patients who meet the criteria above and are considered high-risk. Some insurance companies pay for lung screenings. Contact your insurer for details.

What to expect

NHRMC recommends low-dose CT screening patients wear comfortable clothing and leave all valuables and jewelry at home.

The patient exam takes about half an hour, with five to eight minutes spent on a CT scanner table.

CT scanning uses X-ray and computers to produce detailed images of your lungs and can detect smaller tumors than a standard X-ray.

“This is a quick and painless, and the radiation dose is only slightly higher than a traditional X-ray,” she said.

After the exam, a radiologist will interpret the results and determine future imaging recommendations. The presence of a nodule of concern could mean the patient would be recommended to receive advanced imaging tests and possibly a lung biopsy.

Patients with tissue-diagnosed lung cancer can be referred to the NHRMC Lung Program, which helps to expedite the care plan through the collaboration of specialists. For more information about the Lung Program, visit

The CDC says the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. Screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking.

For more information on lung cancer screening, visit:

NHRMC offers free smoking cessation class

New Hanover Regional Medical Center offers free smoking cessation classes quarterly.

The one-hour classes are designed to provide resources and support to help you quit smoking. Each class is taught by a respiratory therapist and pharmacist, and includes information on how to change behaviors and nicotine replacement therapy.

The next class is from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, in the first-floor classroom at Cape Fear Heart Associates, 1415 Physicians Drive, Wilmington.

For more information or to sign up for a class, call 910-264-9200.

Topics: Cancer

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