Tuality Healthcare’s lung cancer screening program, the only one of its kind in the Portland metro area, recently received a nice boost from an influential government panel regarding low-dose CT scans and their use in diagnosing the early stages of lung cancer.

After extensive review of the current evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that older smokers at high risk of lung cancer should receive annual CT scans. The panel said the benefits to smokers in the 55 to 79 age group far outweighed the risks associated with a scan.

Tuality has been ahead of the curve regarding low-dose CT scans and lung cancer, according to spokesman Gerry Ewing. The hospital started its lung cancer screening program in June under the direction of Drs. Peter Hahn and Srinivas Mummadi. This procedure uses low radiation dose CT scans instead of traditional chest X-rays to diagnose lung cancer in a very specific segment of the population — long-term smokers in the 55 to 79 age group.

“We’re pleased with the news. That validates our program,” said Hahn, a pulmonologist and Tuality’s medical director of critical care and sleep medicine. “We firmly believe that low-dose CT scans can allow us to diagnose lung cancer in an early, treatable stage.”

The task force said current and former smokers in the target age group with a 30 “pack-year” history of smoking who have smoked in the last 15 years should receive annual CT scans. The term 30 “pack-year” refers to a person who has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years. Another consideration is the person undergoing the CT scan should be in good health, making them a good candidate for surgery should cancer be found.

“By diagnosing lung cancer in its earliest stages, we can actually save lives,” said Mummadi. “We can cure lung cancer in 80 percent of cases diagnosed in the earliest stages by following these guidelines.”

The panel estimated that 20,000 of the United States’ nearly 160,000 annual lung cancer deaths could be prevented under the new guidelines.

Tuality Healthcare’s program started June 6. The program consists of the low-dose CT scan, consultation with a pulmonologist to review the results, and a visit with a nicotine dependence counselor.

The entire program takes less than four hours to complete.

Most private insurers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) do not pay screening at this time. However, it is expected that insurance coverage will be widely available in the near future.

Funding for the lung cancer screening and much of the necessary equipment was supplied by the Tuality Healthcare Foundation.

For more information, call 503-681-4354.

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