Susquehanna Health Ramps Up Lung Cancer Screening Program Based on Data, Demand

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lung cancer is the leading cause of death and the top cancer killer among men and women in the U.S. CDC data indicates more than 10,000 new lung cancer cases annually in Pennsylvania. In response to higher-than-state-average incidents of lung cancer in its region of service, Susquehanna Health (SH) developed a new, expanded program scheduled to launch in May to provide smoking cessation counseling and low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) lung cancer screenings.

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Susquehanna Health is committed to reducing the incidence of lung cancer in our region through our outreach program including increasing awareness, detecting lung cancer earlier and ultimately saving lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lung cancer is the leading cause of death and the top cancer killer among men and women in the U.S. CDC data indicates more than 10,000 new lung cancer cases annually in Pennsylvania. In response to higher-than-state-average incidents of lung cancer in its region of service, Susquehanna Health (SH) developed a new, expanded program scheduled to launch in May to provide smoking cessation counseling and low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) lung cancer screenings.

Smoking is believed to be the most important risk factor for lung cancer and state Department of Health data indicates a higher-than-average occurrence of adult smokers in Lycoming County. According to SH Cancer Center Executive Director Michelle Gaida, a pilot program to help reduce the incidence of lung cancer deaths was initiated in August 2014 with a community outreach and education booth at an area block party. Thirty-five percent of the individuals surveyed during the outreach indicated a desire to quit smoking. In addition to receiving smoking cession information, those at high-risk for lung cancer were encouraged to participate in a lung cancer screening.

In August and September 2014, the Cancer Center partnered with the radiology department and with funding provided by the Cancer Center and Susquehanna Health Foundation, offered free LDCT lung cancer screenings to individuals who met criteria for being at risk for cancer.

Of the 40 individuals who received the screenings, 60 percent had clinically significant findings not suggestive of lung cancer including emphysema, smoking-related lung disease, bronchiectasis, coronary calcifications and fatty liver disease. SH is following through on all participant outcomes and scheduling future screenings based on the particular findings of the screen. “Susquehanna Health is committed to reducing the incidence of lung cancer in our region through our outreach program including increasing awareness, detecting lung cancer earlier and ultimately saving lives,” said Gaida.

Since those screenings, according to Gaida, most commercial health insurance companies are now covering the screenings for those who meet the specific criteria. In February 2015, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services announced national coverage for those who meet specific criteria including individuals 55 to 77 years of age who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, or with a history of smoking one package of cigarettes per day over a 30 year period (or 2 packs per day over a 15 year period). The new program follows guidelines established by the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and provides lung screening navigators in Lycoming and Tioga counties with resources to help patients and providers determine eligibility, offer complete shared decision making conversations around the benefits and harms of low-dose computed tomography, provide counseling on smoking cessation and follow up on future screenings.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn’t go away, mucus production that is always present, shortness of breath and bloody sputum. Treatment for lung cancer is based on the cancer’s type and stage as well as the patient’s overall health. The most common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Following lung cancer treatment, patients work with respiratory therapists to expand their capacity to breathe.

Pulmonary Wellness Instructor Peggy Winder sees the ramifications of lung disease and cancer on a regular basis and works to circumvent them. In the past 15 years, Winder has worked with about six female lung cancer patients—all in their 50s and all but one were smokers. “These women started smoking in their teens or 20s and had been smoking for about 30 years,” said Winder. Rehabilitation after lung cancer treatment is typically an eight-week program of exercises and education provided in hour-long intervals twice a week. The program is tailored to the patient based on their treatment history, doctor’s orders and needs following surgery and designed to help them take control of the disease. “In addition to Susquehanna Health patients, we also receive referrals from Memorial Sloan Kettering and Fox Chase Cancer Center,” explained Winder.

The respiratory therapy program is generally the same for lung cancer patients as for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients but, according to Winder, getting patient acceptance is often like “trying to sell a car without an engine. Patients tell us, ‘You mean I’m going to exercise and I can’t breathe?’ Pulmonary Wellness offers a second wind for patients with COPD. Our therapists work safely with our patients, who are often surprised by what they can do in a matter of time,” said Winder. Typically, half of the Pulmonary Wellness patients require oxygen to exercise. In some cases, patients who begin therapy on eight liters of oxygen gradually work their way to exercising without need of oxygen, according to Winder. Pulmonary Wellness also offers lung cancer screenings, which involve a simple breathing test, at events throughout the year.

Since 2010, all of SH’s facilities are smoke- and tobacco-free. For more information on lung cancer or to find out about Susquehanna Health screenings call (570) 321-2545 or visit SusquehannaHealth.org.

About Susquehanna Health
Susquehanna Health is a four-hospital integrated health system including Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital, Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital and Williamsport Regional Medical Center located in northcentral Pennsylvania. Serving patients from an 11-county region, Susquehanna Health is a healthcare leader and has been recognized at the national and state levels for quality of care. Susquehanna Health offers a wide array of services that include cancer care, heart and vascular care/heart surgery, neurosciences including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, OB/GYN, gastrointestinal services, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, home care, long term care, assisted living and paramedic/ambulance services.

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Tyler Wagner
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