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ChristianaCare recommends cancer screenings for heavy smokers

Lung Cancer Screening.jpg
Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

ChristianaCare recommends qualified smokers and former smokers get screened for cancer using a low-dose CT scan.

Lung cancer is the cause of 33% of cancer deaths in Delaware, and early detection is critical in helping to reduce that number.

Individuals with early stage lung cancer often show no symptoms, forcing them to seek treatment when the cancer has progressed and become more deadly.

Dr. Nicholas Petrelli is Medical Director of ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. He says early detection increases survivability.

“That’s been shown in a national trial with multiple individuals where the mortality rate from lung cancer, by screening, was reduced by 20%. And that’s not a baby step in cancer care, that’s almost a quantum jump,” he said.

In order to get screened, individuals must meet ALL eligibility requirements.

“Age 50 to 80, asymptomatic, no symptoms, a smoking history of 20 pack years- which is one pack a day for 20 years. At least 20 pack year history, could be more, and a current smoker or one who has quit smoking within the last 15 years,” explained Petrelli.

If an individual who meets most criteria shows any symptoms of lung cancer, including chronic coughing, they are considered high-risk and should proceed with a CT scan.

If an individual meets all of the criteria, including being asymptomatic, they can request a screening.

“In our institution they can actually have a direct referral,” said Petrelli. “They can contact their family practice physician or a primary care physician, and they can set them up, take the history, and schedule them for a low-dose CT scan. In our institution, and I’m sure other institutions like this, we also take self-referrals.”

He emphasizes the process does differ nationwide, and between institutions, but speaking with one’s primary care physician is a safe way to navigate the process.

And for those worried about cost, Petrelli notes insurance generally covers this type of screening.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and a graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021