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Low Dose Chest CT Scan for Lung Cancer Screening

November 15, 2013

Cancer screenings are designed to catch cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. For example, mammograms look for breast cancer and PSA screens for prostate cancer. Until recently, however, there wasn’t a good screening tool for the most common cancer killer in America: lung cancer.

Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and Advanced Medical Imaging (AMI) are proud to be among the first in the state to jointly offer Low Dose Chest CT scans for lung cancer, a disease that most often has reached advanced stages by the time symptoms appear.

“This is cutting edge stuff based on the recently released National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) data,” said Kevin Duwe, MD, of Intercity Radiology and AMI. “It’s the start of a whole new protocol. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer has been only 15% since the 1970s, because it was found too late. The premise is with early detection it will be more treatable. The test is for people who feel well, even though they have a significant smoking history.”

Since smoking is thought to cause up to 90% of lung cancers, candidates for this screening must be a current or former smoker, between 55-74 years old, with a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.), and have no symptoms such as wheezing or coughing up blood. An order for the test is needed from their primary provider.

Low Dose Chest CT uses the lowest possible amount of radiation without contrast dye to produce diagnostic quality images of the chest. It is a lesser dose that a normal CT scan, approximately equivalent to the dose in a mammogram. “It’s literally a 10-second scan, 15 minutes from start to finish,” Dr. Duwe said.

While the $400 exam is not currently covered by insurance, Duwe said if cancer or other incidental findings are discovered, insurance should cover all follow-up treatment. He expects the screening will be covered by insurance, just like mammograms, within this decade.
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