Animated illustration showing lung cancer

Research

Saving More Lives From Lung Cancer: Low-Dose CT Scans Detect No. 1 Cancer Killer in Early Stages

To build awareness and encourage those at highest risk – primarily smokers and ex-smokers — to undergo lung cancer screenings, Baptist Health South Florida and the American Lung Association joined forces last year for the “Saved By the Scan” campaign.

The partnership, the first between a large healthcare organization and the American Lung Association, has produced very encouraging results.  Preliminary numbers for lung cancer screenings, using low-dose CT scans, show an increase of 62 percent in 2021, compared to 2020 — and a 29 percent increase compared to 2019 (before the COVID-19 pandemic).

Saved By the Scan is a public service campaign aimed at educating U.S. adults about the groundbreaking low-dose CT cancer screening for those at high risk for the disease. (November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month.) Baptist Health and the American Lung Association announced this month that “the proven and successful” Saved By the Scan partnership will be extended.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S. Smoking is by far the leading risk factor for lung cancer, causing more than 80 percent of deaths. Screening can detect lung cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Previous research has found that early detection of lung cancer through a low-dose CT scan can reduce mortality for those who are or have been smokers, are over the age of 50 and meet the high-risk eligibility criteria. Low-dose CT scans use about one-fifth as much radiation as conventional CT scans.

 

The 62 percent surge in lung cancer screenings for the first year makes it quite likely that the number of screenings will double next year, which was the initial goal of Baptist Health’s Saved by the Scan partnership, said Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., deputy director, chief scientific officer and chief of solid tumor medical oncology at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute, and Fernandez Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

“Unfortunately, most patients are still diagnosed in stage 4 of lung cancer,” explains Dr. Ahluwalia. “And at that point in time, we cannot cure them, despite all the transformative improvements that have taken place in the last decade or two in the therapeutics with these patients. While the five-year survival rate has gone from 5 percent to 25 percent in the last decade, that still leaves too many patients who will not live past five years.”

That’s how vital early screenings have become. The national rate for lung cancer screenings remains extremely low at 6 percent, said Dr. Ahluwalia. In South Florida and particularly in the Hispanic community, the rate is even lower, closer to 2 percent.

Baptist Health is also partnering with LUNGevity Foundation, the nation’s leading lung cancer-focused nonprofit organization, to set up a screening program targeting the Hispanic community.

“The compliance and access to lung cancer screenings are lower among minorities, but we need to improve screening rates at all levels,” adds Dr. Ahluwalia.

 

Mark Dylewski, M.D., chief of general thoracic surgery at Baptist Health, emphasizes that Baptist Health Cancer Care through Miami Cancer Institute, Lynn Cancer Institute and other facilities, has one of the largest lung cancer screening programs in the U.S.

“With the expansion of screenings, we are catching more patients in the earlier stages where surgery can have a bigger impact,” said Dr. Dylewski. “Anybody who feels that they have a significant risk for the development of lung cancer should really pay attention to this information and seek out an opportunity to get a lung screening CT scan.”

Who Should Be Screened?

While not all lung cancers occur in smokers, those who currently smoke and those who smoked in the past should ask their doctors about being screened. General guidelines recommend low-dose CT scans for those who:

  • Have a 20-pack year history of smoking (this means a pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, etc.) and
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years and
  • Are between the ages of 50 and 80

Medicare and most private insurance companies cover the cost of the screening.

In 2014, Dr. Dylewski and Juan Batlle, M.D., chief of thoracic imaging at Baptist Health, spearheaded Baptist Health’s lung cancer screening program with generous support from a grateful patient and lung cancer survivor, Dennis Bookshester. For information, visit BaptistHealth.net/LungScreening and BaptistSalud.net/EvaluacionDePulmon.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.