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Dartmouth Cancer Center and University of Vermont Cancer Center spearhead campaign to promote early detection of lung cancer

By Staff | Jul 31, 2022

LEBANON – Unlike screenings for breast, prostate and other cancers, which have a long history and are routine procedures, examining non-symptomatic patients for signs of lung cancer is relatively new. Lung cancer screening for at-risk patients became a standard recommendation covered by insurance only in 2013, after research showed it saved lives, and is still much less utilized than screening for other cancers.

The discrepancy comes at a high price. Absent a regular screening protocol, lung cancer is often detected late, after it has spread, and is the number-one cause of cancer death in Vermont and the United States. Lung cancer kills more Vermonters, and more Americans, than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined.

Vermonters Taking Action Against Cancer is a new community education program, spearheaded by Dartmouth Cancer Center and the University of Vermont (UVM) Cancer Center, in partnership with Vermont’s state cancer coalition. Vermonters Taking Action Against Cancer aims to make lung cancer screening for eligible patients–those over 50 who have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 or more years, including those who quit no more than 15 years ago–much more prevalent in Vermont. The project is funded by the National Cancer Institute.

“The goal of this program is to significantly widen awareness among eligible Vermonters of the proven life-saving benefits of lung cancer screening,” said Rian M. Hasson, MD, thoracic surgeon at Dartmouth Cancer Center and assistant professor of surgery at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, and a co-leader of the lung cancer screening project.

“We are also working closely with healthcare teams to make sure conversations about these screenings are a regular and routine part of healthcare in Vermont, and patients can get them in a timely fashion” added project co-leader John King, MD, a professor of Family Medicine at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine.

Only 14.5% of eligible Vermonters are currently screened, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“Vermont is above the national average of 5%,” said Beth Zigmund, MD, director of Lung Cancer Screening at the UVM Medical Center and an associate professor of Radiology in the Larner College Medicine. “But that number is still low; we miss well over half of Vermont’s eligible population.”

Vermonters with lung cancer currently have, on average, a five-year survival rate of 26%, close to the national average of 24%, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). However, for those whose cancer has metastasized widely–a group that includes nearly half of all those screened in Vermont–five-year survival is just 6%. The number grows to 60% for Vermonters whose cancer is detected when localized at the original site, only about one quarter of those screened, according to the ALA.

“If they’re detected early, local tumors can be removed surgically, and that can be curative for many lung cancer patients,” said Randall Holcombe, MD, director of the UVM Cancer Center. “By the time you have symptoms, like pain or coughing blood, the cancer may have spread, and the outlook is much less positive.”

The community education campaign that launched earlier this month consists of posters, social media posts, web advertising, op-eds, and outreach to media, the campaign stresses:

The life-extending benefits of early detection of lung cancer;

It is safe, quick, and covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance;

The procedure takes only a few minutes in a CT scan machine, not in a claustrophobia-inducing MRI scanner, and that it uses a low-radiation-dose technique;

Patients need to meet with their primary care providers to engage in a joint discussion about the screening, a process called shared decision-making. The provider will then refer the patient to the nearest lung cancer screening facility. There are seven American College of Radiology-accredited lung cancer screening facilities in the state.

Gas cards are available to eligible Vermonters to defray the costs of driving to a lung cancer screening center.

For more information, visit: https://vtaac.org/lung-cancer-screening/


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