A pioneering lung cancer screening initiative in the Augusta, Ga., area found more than double the rate of cancer observed in previous studies. An analysis of the data collected points toward the need for ongoing, accessible, free screening in high-risk and underserved populations, say researchers from Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University.
High-risk groups include those who have smoked a pack of cigarettes daily for two or three decades, who are currently smokers, or those who quit smoking less than 15 years ago. Screening was offered by combined positive emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) scans.
The initiative screened 264 people within a 150-mile radius of Augusta. Of the 398 individuals who signed up for the screening, 350 qualified and 264 had lung cancer screening. More than 80 patients were not screened in the first year, mostly due to socioeconomic and travel limitations.
Previous trials like the National Lung Screening Trial, launched in 2002 in 33 large urban centers, and the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center trial in Massachusetts, launched a decade later, were used to model the Augusta screening initiative.
The first found a prevalence rate of 1.1% among the 26,722 high-risk individuals screened. The second found 0.6% prevalence in the first 10 months of screening.
In the Augusta trial, about 3% of those screened had lung cancer, and 75% of those were caught early. Excluding those patients who presented early symptoms, like persistent cough, the rate of patients with no symptoms was 2.2%, twice the rate previously observed.
“Lung cancer is still the number one cancer killer in the United States and in our world,” Carsten Schroeder, MD thoracic oncology surgeon at the Georgia Cancer Center, said in a news story. “If we catch it in the early stages, ideally before symptoms surface, we can operate and patients can have an overall survival rate of 90 percent,” he said.
Participants in the Augusta trial were from mostly rural communities with limited healthcare services available. That area’s average household income is 27% below national average and the poverty level is 67% higher, according to income and poverty data of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Average age was 60 years old, with a somewhat even gender distribution. Race distribution was uneven, with about 68% of the participants being white and only 20% being black.
The Augusta screening initiative found that younger patients who started smoking early in life had multiple risk factors.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you have smoked 30 years, you might want to consider a lung-cancer screening,” said Schroeder.
To date, about 700 people have been screened in the Augusta area and Schroeder is working to expand statewide.
“We want to reach as many people as we can as early as we can,” he said. “Also, about half of patients screened continue to smoke, so screening might also be a logical point for smoking intervention.”