When Michael Leonard began his career in healthcare administration some 40 years ago, he already understood the value of using X-rays machines and CT scanners to “see” inside the human body. These days, as Director of Imaging Services at Northern Hospital of Surry County, he manages the daily operations of the most advanced imaging equipment available today – all of which help physicians detect diseases at their earliest stages.
One such disease is lung cancer – the #1 leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America. Indeed, more people die from lung cancer every year than from breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, men – especially smokers or former smokers – are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women. It is estimated that approximately 118,000 men will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year in the United States; and nearly 106,000 women will receive the same diagnosis.
As with most cancers, the earlier that lung cancer is detected, the better able physicians are to treat it with a variety of stand-alone or combination therapies.
No Pain / All Gain
“The good news is that a lung cancer screening test — which is simple and quick — is available for eligible patients,” says Leonard. He explains that a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) screening is designed specifically for asymptomatic individuals whose age and history of smoking make them most “at-risk” for developing lung cancer. At Northern Hospital, the non-invasive test – which requires patients to simply lie down on a scanning table for a few minutes — is performed on an outpatient basis by a certified CT specialist. The images obtained from the scan are sent to a board-certified radiologist, who then carefully “reads” and interprets the results. A final report is submitted to the patient’s primary-care physician, who shares the results with the patient.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the screening test to relevant family members, friends and neighbors,” says Leonard. “In our region, where smoking has been a common behavior, especially in the past few decades, there are a great number of people who may meet the eligibility requirements for this test.”
Covered by Medicare
In particular, the screening test is covered by Medicare (and most major healthcare plans, at no cost) for those who meet the following criteria: are 55 to 77 years of age; have never had any signs or symptoms of lung cancer; have a tobacco-smoking history of having smoked one pack of cigarettes (20 cigarettes) every day for at least 30 years; are a current smoker or one who has quit smoking within the last 15 years; and have a written order from their primary-care physician for a lung-cancer screening with LDCT. (Individuals with no primary-care physician may contact Northern Family Medicine at 336-786-4133 to make an appointment.)
Screening Saves Lives
The screening test is proving to be a proficient early-detection tool. “Based on the statistics from our hospital’s screening efforts and those of other programs throughout the country, the low-dose CT scan test is finding cancer and other lung conditions among the targeted population of chronic-smokers,” says Leonard.
“Greater awareness of lung cancer screening for those considered at high-risk is key to saving lives,” echoes the American Lung Association. “In fact, if only half of the estimated 9 million people at high-risk were to get screened, 15,000 lives could be saved.”
Awareness & Thanks
November is “National Lung Cancer Awareness Month” and also that special time of year when we give thanks. For Mike Leonard, that combination of events has a special meaning. “As a hospital director, my goal is to help patients; and as a self-confessed ‘techno-nerd,’ I fully appreciate the many technological advances made in the field of radiology,” he says. “For both those reasons, I am committed to increasing awareness about the LDCT screening test for lung cancer because it’s an effective way to save lives.”