Lower-risk lung screening could save countless lives

January 18, 2013 7:23:23 AM PST
Lung cancer kills more American women than any other form of cancer, but new technology could change the odds.

Mary Theresa Rahilly has had skin cancer, breast cancer and now a rare cancer in her left eye.

She was screened for lung cancer since her mother died from the disease.

"Stress and anxiety is not going to change a diagnosis or a spot anywhere on your body so you know what I always have to tell myself," Rahilly said. "It is what it is."

Losing her mother had a big effect on Rahilly's life.

"She had a late stage lung cancer and it was very devastating she was our everything," she said.

Many lung cancers are discovered too late, when the disease has already advanced.

Now there might be a breakthrough. A lower dose CT scan has shown success at finding this cancer earlier.

Rahilly is now part of research at Rush University Medical Center to test the scan.

Conventional x-rays can only detect tumors of more than an inch but this scan see smaller tumors.

"Using a CT scan to detect nodules when they are in the millimeter size instead of the centimeter size," Doctor Mark Yoder of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Department at Rush University Medical Center.

There is concern that radiation levels from regular dose CT scans put patients at risk for other cancers.

The low dose scan is considered safer and better at detecting suspicious spots.

A national study found a 20-percent reduction in lung cancer deaths among current or former heavy smokers who had this scan compared with those who received chest x-rays.

More doctors are now recommending the scan for high risk individuals.

It's not recommended for everyone partly because these scans may find tiny spots that turn out not to be cancerous, leading to anxiety and even unnecessary procedures.

The other drawbacks are that the scans still involve radiation and they can cost hundreds of dollars.

Rahilly had a few suspicious spots, but follow up scans showed they were benign

"Even if this study proves it is not effective," she said. "We would never know if people don't step up to the plate and my mother was that type or person she was always pitching in. So I have to do this."

If you are interested in Rush's low dose CT research, please visit their site for more information:

Rush Lung Cancer Screening Trial

You can also contact Josephine Volgi at (312) 563-2741.