Low-dose CT scan can detect lung cancer in its early stages

CRYSTAL LAKE – By the end of the week, Ellen Jeffrey likely will know whether she has lung cancer.

Jeffrey, a 59-year-old Huntley resident, took advantage of the free low-dose CT lung screenings offered at Centegra Health Center in Huntley last week and was told there was an abnormality in the images and a follow-up would be needed.

She is hopeful it is the remnants of the valley fever she contracted while living in Arizona, but she knows the worst is possible after smoking for more than 30 years before quitting in 2008.

"I think the spot they saw could be from the valley fever, but there is always a little anxiety," Jeffrey said. "There is always that concern. You think you're protected from things like this when you are younger, but you're not."

Jeffrey is one of more than 370 people who have used the free screenings at Centegra, a procedure that usually costs $299. The program was scheduled to end in March after launching in November, but demand has been so great, it was extended through the end of April, Centegra spokeswoman Michelle Green said.

By the end of March, 174 people received a diagnosis or were asked to return for more imaging in the future because of abnormal findings.

"It's been so successful, our physicians are still considering other options," Green said of continuing the program in some form past April.

Because the low-dose CT lung screening uses radiation, the program is only available for those most at risk. Qualifications for the screening include being between 55 and 74 years old and having smoked one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years.

While radiation exposure should be kept at a minimum, the screening is the only effective procedure to detect lung cancer, said Kevin Kirshenbaum, chairman of radiology at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.

Many lung cancer diagnoses come after it is in a late stage, and low-dose radiation screenings give physicians the chance to catch it early.

"There is no great screening tool to detect early lung cancer. Chest X-rays can only do so much," Kirshenbaum said. "This is really the only screening test for lung cancer, and it has tremendous potential upside."

That potential could save many lives, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which found low-dose CT lung screenings could prevent 20 percent more deaths from lung cancer than chest X-ray screenings.

Jeffrey said it was a quick and painless process that took about 10 minutes to complete. She urged anyone eligible to take advantage of the program.

"It was completely free, so it saved me and the insurance company money," Jeffrey said. "You have to be proactive. No one is going to worry about your health except you."

The free screenings are offered at Crystal Lake Medical Arts, 360 Station Drive, Crystal Lake, and Centegra Health Center – Huntley, 10350 Haligus Road, Huntley. Call 815-334-5566 or visit www.centegra.org/lungscreening to make an appointment.

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