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A Bright Light for Smokers

Annual Report - Winter 2012

Screening reduces lung cancer-related deaths

By Katrina Burton

Reginald Munden, M.D., sees a light at the end of the tunnel with the release of the findings of the National Lung Screening Trial.

The bright glimmer is that the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) reported a 20% reduction in lung cancer deaths among trial participants — heavy smokers — whose lung cancers were first spotted with a low-dose helical CT scan.

Reginald Munden, M.D. professor in the Department of 
Diagnostic Radiology, and CT Technician Ramon Yapp 
can now screen current and former smokers for lung 
cancer. That enables them to diagnose the disease earlier 
or let people know their lungs show no sign of cancer.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

Based on these findings, MD Anderson launched the Lung Cancer Screening Program in June 2011.

“The results of the national trial offer an opportunity for us to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages,” says Munden, professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and lead investigator at MD Anderson, one of 33 sites for the national trial.

The significance of being able to detect small lung cancer tumors can be the difference between life and death for lung cancer patients. Experts at the institution tailored the program for current or former heavy smokers 50 years of age or older, who have smoked the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day for at least 20 years.

Cessation services tailored to the person

The second component of the screening program is smoking cessation assistance offered through the Tobacco Treatment Program in the Cancer Prevention Center. The program — traditionally offered to MD Anderson patients, employees and their families to help them quit smoking — is now accessible to all patients for a small fee.

“We saw a unique opportunity to provide screening for people at increased risk and to offer interventions to help current smokers quit smoking, as well as relapse prevention assistance for recent quitters,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center and co-investigator on the national trial.

The program offers:

  • behavioral counseling for smoking cessation by a doctoral-level clinical psychologist,
  • cessation medication management by a medical doctor, and
  • prescriptions for smoking cessation medications.

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