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Yale Team Shares Importance of Lung Cancer Screening at Community Event

November 07, 2023

It’s estimated that about 127,000 people will die from lung cancer in the U.S. this year, yet only 7 percent of people eligible for a potentially life-saving test – lung cancer screening – are taking advantage of that opportunity.

It’s why several doctors, nurses and other health professionals from Yale Cancer Center, Smilow Cancer Hospital, and Yale New Haven Health came to the Dixwell Community House – the Q House – in New Haven on Saturday, November 4. Yale Pathology Labs also attended with their mobile testing van and their wildly popular inflatable lungs.

“Learning About Lung Cancer: A Community Event,” was held in recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Several information tables were set up on the second floor of the Q House for community members, who were also treated to a continental breakfast.

“Why are we taking the time on a Saturday to do this?” asked Sarah Goldberg, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology) and Chief of Thoracic Oncology. “It’s because lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S. and by far the most common cause of cancer deaths. It’s a common cancer – only breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men are more common – but more people die of lung cancer every year than the next few cancers combined.”

A lung cancer test is one of the easiest tests, said Krista Casey, MBA, a Registered Nurse who works in the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital.

“It’s a 10-minute CT scan. It’s a low-dose radiation CT scan. You lay on the table they take some pictures. There are no IVs, no dyes. It’s open, not enclosed,” she said.

Polly Sather, an APRN, RN and Lecturer who helped start the lung cancer screening program at Yale in 2018, said the screening emerged from a nationwide clinical trial involving a low radiation dose CT scan.

“Previously, most cases they found were people already having symptoms or finding it by accident when looking for something else. With screening, we can shift the diagnosis from the later stages, which are much harder to treat, to the earlier stages,” she said.

Gavitt Woodard, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery (Thoracic), said that with increased screening, lung cancer will be detected at an earlier stage.

“That’s really encouraging, and it will translate into much better survival outcomes,” she said.

Per screening guidelines, a person must be age 50 or older and have smoked a pack a day for 20 years, half a pack for 40 years – a 20-year smoking history – or have quit smoking in the past 15 years.

Katerina Politi, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Scientific Director of the Center for Thoracic Cancers, said lung cancer mortalities are decreasing because fewer people are smoking but also due to scientific advances. The Politi Lab at Yale studies lung cancer. Dr. Politi said researchers have gained a better understanding of the genetic changes inside tumors that cancers rely on for survival. This understanding has led to targeted therapies that can be used to treat specific tumors that have these alterations.

“We now have about 10 molecular changes in cancers that we can look for when someone is diagnosed with lung cancer. If that tumor has that change, then there is a therapy that matches that specific cancer,” Dr. Politi said.

Margaret Antenucci, APRN, who works with the Tobacco Treatment Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital, spoke about the dangers of vaping, and gave examples of how parents can inquire about vaping use among their teenagers’ friends without sounding accusatory. Henry S. Park, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Therapeutic Radiology, discussed various clinical trials underway at Yale, while Gary Bellinger, manager of the Politi Lab, discussed what motivates their work.

“We’re trying to answer the questions that can’t be answered,” he said.

Submitted by Terence P. Corcoran on November 07, 2023