By Rebecca Mayer Knutsen
Following a terrible car accident, a 65-year-old heavy smoker wakes up in Cape Cod Hospital’s Emergency Center. He’s counting his lucky stars for surviving the accident, but he is even more grateful to learn the CT scan performed for his chest injuries detected the signs of early stage lung cancer.
“We can increase the treatment outcomes in the early stages of lung cancer by fourfold,” explains Salvatore G. Viscomi, M.D., chairman of radiology at Cape Cod Hospital.
Low-dose CT scans allow for treatment during the more survivable stages of the disease, often before the patient exhibits any symptoms. With Medicare’s recent decision to cover the annual scans for up to three years, eligible patients don’t need to wait for a car accident to reveal lung cancer.
The decision, according to Viscomi, was a thumbs-up from the government that the CT scan is a positive screening tool. “Now studies can be done at no expense to patients,” he explains.
Low-dose CT units are available in the emergency centers and main imaging departments at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals. The technology can reach a level of detail that X-rays simply cannot. “X-ray technology is not advanced enough,” says Viscomi. “A CT scan is like looking under a microscope.”
Viscomi advocates a smoking cessation program along with early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. “We have found it difficult to reach the patients at highest risk for lung cancer,” says Viscomi. “There’s a stigma and fear about this diagnosis, but we can find it early and save lives now.”