Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Screening program helps save lives

Lung cancer screening

November 1, 2019

When it comes to lung cancer, early detection is vital. In fact, lung cancer screening reduces the lung cancer death rate by 20 percent.

In April 2018, St. Peter’s Health launched a lung cancer screening program to help save the lives of people at high risk for the cancer in our community. In Montana, more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, and contributes to over 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. As part of the new lung cancer screening program, in consultation with their primary care physician, those at high risk for lung cancer can undergo a low dose CT scan (LDCT) to detect abnormalities. The scan can help identify cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage often before symptoms appear.

Lung screening is recommended for individuals who:

  • Are between ages 55 and 80
  • Are still smoking or quit smoking within the past 15 years
  • Have a 30-pack year or more smoking history. A “30-pack year” is calculated by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years an individual has smoked. For example, someone who smoked 1.5 packs a day for 20 years would have a “30-pack year” smoking history.

An eight-year National Cancer Institute trial found 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths among trial participants screened using the LDCT.

"The earliest stage lung cancer has a five-year survival of 90 -95 percent. With lung cancer screening, we catch these lung cancers at an earlier stage. Indeed, Stage IA lung cancers have survival rates about 80% - 90% instead of the single digit percentages seen for metastatic cancers," said Dr. Andrew Cupino, St. Peter’s Radiation Oncologist.

For those who are eligible, the screening is now covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare. Patients can speak to their primary care provider about the benefits and potential harms of screening to determine whether the screening is right for them.

"This is a good illustration why it is so important to have a primary care physician. At an annual wellness visit, we can help you make sure you are being screened for all the conditions that need to be treated early before it’s too late," said Dr. Todd Wampler, St. Peter’s Executive Medical Director Ambulatory Services.

If a patient does have a positive finding on the scan, a St. Peter’s Health nurse navigator stands ready to assist the patient with the next steps to ensure continuity of care.

According to Jamie Wilcox, RN, OCN St. Peter’s Lung Cancer Nurse Navigator, “I will walk you through each step of the process, from education of your disease through your treatment.  I will assist in coordination of your care and make sure you overcome any barriers you may encounter.  I am here to make an overwhelming experience manageable for you and your family.”


If you are interested in a lung cancer screening or have more questions, contact our lung nurse navigator 406-447-2661 or your primary care physician.