Delaware health officials promote CT scans for early lung cancer detection

A doctor looks at the CT scan of a lung cancer patient. (Andy Wong/AP Photo)

A doctor looks at the CT scan of a lung cancer patient. (Andy Wong/AP Photo)

When someone visits a Delaware hospital or school, they might be met with large inflatable lungs taller than Shaquille O’Neal.

One lung, a healthy pink. The other, a black lung representing 15 years of smoking.

It’s part of the state’s efforts to encourage early detection with annual CT scans for current and former long-term heavy smokers who are over 55.

Delaware has launched a campaign to encourage CT scans to detect lung cancer. (Courtesy of the Division of Public Health)

“By doing the screening, you can detect lung nodules in early stages,” said Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health. “The problem with lung cancer and why death is so high is because, in general, it’s not detected until you have more extensive disease, and then it’s much more difficult to treat. When you find it at an earlier stage, it’s far more treatable, and for an individual themselves, it’s much less traumatic and has much less of an impact on their quality of life.”

“Not only does the screening save lives,” Rattay said, “but it also saves health care costs. Because when you identify cancer at the higher stages, it costs a lot more money, but if you can identify it early on, the treatment is not only less traumatic it also costs a lot less.”

Lung cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in Delaware, and it represents 30 percent of all cancer deaths between 2010 and 2014.

On the national level, lung cancer screenings were only recommended about five or six years ago, Rattay said. Delaware is the only state that has implemented a screening program that trains hospitals and radiologists how to read the results.

Since the program began four years ago, 10% of eligible patients have received a lung cancer screening.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are required to reimburse lung screenings. Rattay said those who don’t have insurance can receive one through the state’s Screening for Life program.

The state’s health campaign is tied in with legislative measures to reduce smoking. This week, Gov. John Carney will sign legislation to increase the smoking age to 21.

Rattay said 85% to 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking.

“When we look at lung cancer, raising the tobacco age will have a great impact,” she said. “Given the fact tobacco use is so strongly associated with many kinds of cancer, especially lung cancer, tobacco prevention is one of the most important things we can do from a health perspective.”

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