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The Importance of Lung Cancer Screenings

December 22, 2023

Do you smoke, look after someone who smokes, or simply worry about a smoker you love? On this Community Conversation, Mark Widmann, MD, a thoracic surgeon with Atlantic Health System, and Federico Cerrone, MD, a pulmonary medicine specialist with Atlantic Health System, join us in recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month to talk about why it’s so important to be proactive and get screened for lung cancer.

Why is it important to get screened for lung cancer?

More people die from lung cancer than any other form of cancer in the United States. According to Dr. Cerrone, patients who get screened early for lung cancer and begin treatment have a better chance of survival than those whose cancer is detected later.
Dr. Widmann adds that patients who get screened and have suspicious nodules or cancer are often eligible for curative intent therapy. Lung cancer screening is painless, safe, and saves lives.


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Dr. Federico Cerrone and Dr. Mark D. Widmann discuss the importance of getting a lung cancer screening.

What happens during a lung cancer screening?

Dr. Cerrone says a lung cancer screening is very simple. It is performed using a CAT scan. The patient lies down for approximately 60 seconds while an image is taken of the lungs. It is a non-invasive procedure that is quick and painless.

Who should be screened for lung cancer?

Anyone between the ages of 50 and 77 who smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years should schedule an annual lung cancer screening. Dr. Cerrone says that the math is the same regardless of the amount you smoked. For instance, if you smoked half a pack a day for 40 years, you should get screened as well. In addition, those who stopped smoking within the last 15 years, or those that are still smoking should get screened. Dr. Widmann says the screening is not an out-of-pocket cost and is covered by Medicare and most insurance policies. Dr. Cerrone adds, “just like mammograms and prostate cancer screening, it is an annual screening. Many times the initial scan is negative, but we’ve seen where subsequent scans pick up lung cancer. So, it’s important to stay in the program.”

What are the next steps if the lung cancer screening reveals an area of concern?

Dr. Widmann says the first step would be a review of the findings and areas of concern with your physician. Then, depending on the condition, the patient may be referred to a specialist, often a pulmonologist or a chest surgeon. Based on certain risk factors, the patient might undergo a repeat screening or a biopsy to determine the next course of action. An Atlantic Health System nurse navigator would assist the patient and help guide them throughout the process.

Can lung cancer be treated and cured?

The majority of early stage lung cancers are curable, and they are often treated with surgery or radiation. Dr. Widmann notes that the prognosis for lung cancer is improving in all stages of disease. “There's been great advances in some of the novel chemotherapeutic and immunotherapy options. So even for patients with more advanced disease, we're seeing longer and longer survival.” Dr. Widmann attributes better outcomes to advances in diagnostics and minimally invasive surgery.

Should a person who was exposed to secondhand smoke get screened for lung cancer?

The lung screening program is primarily for smokers and those who have smoked in the past, but there are programs available for others based on additional criteria, including those who have been exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.

How do I start the process of getting a lung cancer screening?

Dr. Cerrone says the first point of contact should be your primary care physician. Simply letting them know that you’ve smoked in the past can start a conversation about lung cancer screening and the importance of early detection.

Is vaping as harmful as smoking cigarettes?

Because vaping is a relatively new phenomenon, there’s not enough research to make a comparison. But Dr. Cerrone says “As I tell my patients, breathing in hot liquids into your lungs is probably not a good idea.”

How can I keep my lungs healthy?

First and foremost, Dr. Cerrone says quitting smoking is clearly important for healthy lungs. He adds that using your lungs for exercise helps keep them healthy. Even people with shortness of breath or patients with lung diseases such as COPD need to get up and move their bodies. “Any kind of exercise, any kind of movement is good for your lungs.”

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Dr. Cerrone says that lung cancer in its early stages does not cause symptoms. Only when it becomes more advanced do patients experience pain, shortness of breath, coughing and other symptoms. That’s why it is so important to get screened early for the disease, when it is most curable.

How can I contact the lung screening program at Atlantic Health System?

You can reach the lung screening program at Atlantic Health System at 844-228-5864 (LUNG).

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