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What Can a Chest Health Screening Tell You?

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Posted by Melissa Liverpool, RN

Finding any kind of health problem early is always best. That’s when there are often more and easier treatment options.

One of our main goals at the Temple Healthy Chest Initiative is to find lung cancer early. The disease can be difficult to treat if not found in its beginning stages. That’s why we provide lung cancer screening with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan.

But unlike a lot of other lung screening programs, when we test for lung cancer at Temple we also look for — and then treat — any additional conditions that may be revealed during the scan, like osteoporosis or heart disease.

As a nurse navigator for this program, I guide patients through the screening process, from start to finish. In this blog, I will tell you more about lung cancer screening at Temple and what the results may say about your overall health.

Are you a candidate for screening?

Lung cancer screening is a key element of the Healthy Chest Initiative at Temple. The screening test is offered to people who don’t have any lung cancer symptoms, such as a chronic cough and shortness of breath. By the time lung cancer symptoms begin, the disease may already be at an advanced stage. Screening can find lung cancer before you have symptoms.

The type of CT scan used to look for lung cancer can reveal more details than an X-ray, and it uses a lower dose of radiation than a typical CT scan. As I explain to my patients, the test can find spots on the lungs, called nodules, which may or may not be cancerous. If you do have any of these growths, you may need further testing and monitoring — and potentially a biopsy — to determine whether the nodules are cancer.

Not everyone can be screened for lung cancer. You do need to meet certain criteria. You may be eligible if you:

  • Are between the ages of 50 and 80.
  • Currently smoke or you quit smoking within the past 15 years.
  • Have a history of more than 20 pack years of smoking. You can determine that by multiplying the number of years you smoked by the average number of packs you smoked per day.

Most of my patients who get screened for lung cancer learn that they don’t have the disease. But if you’re at risk for lung cancer, a screening might provide you with some peace of mind.

The big reveal

During a low-dose CT scan of the lungs, we can see pretty much everything from your neck to the bottom of your rib cage, including your heart, airways, blood vessels, and the bones of your spine and chest. That kind of detailed look can tell us a lot about the overall health of your chest and lungs. It can potentially reveal signs of:

Other lung diseases, such as emphysema (a type of COPD) and interstitial lung disease.

Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease. It occurs when arteries that supply the heart with blood are narrowed or blocked by plaque deposits. A chest scan can even tell whether the artery disease is mild, moderate, or severe.

Diabetes, a group of diseases that occurs when the body either doesn’t make insulin or it doesn’t use the hormone well.

Osteoporosis, a type of bone disease that increases the risk of debilitating fractures.

Sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that interrupts sleep and raises the risk for serious problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Thyroid nodules, which are lumps that commonly occur in the thyroid gland at the front of the neck. These nodules are common in women 50 and older. Many thyroid nodules are not cancerous, but some can be.

A dedicated nurse navigator to walk you through the next steps

At the Temple Healthy Chest Initiative, we help patients understand the results of their lung cancer screening and help them get any follow-up care they may need. It’s a very personalized process that my patients tell me they really appreciate. Here’s how it works:

After you get a low-dose CT scan, one of the Temple radiologists will interpret your results and create an electronic medical record report. We will review these results, call you, and explain them to you.

If your chest scan is normal, we’ll let you know that. And we will let your doctor know to remind you when it’s time to schedule your next lung cancer screening. But what if your scan finds a potential chest health problem? You will have a dedicated nurse, like me, guide you through the next steps. That could mean connecting you with a specialist at Temple for further evaluation and treatment, if needed.

For example:

  • If your scan finds a potential lung problem, such as a lung nodule or signs of emphysema, I can connect you with a pulmonologist at the Temple Lung Center, which is home to leading experts in lung disease. And if you are diagnosed with lung cancer, the Lung Cancer Program at Temple and Fox Chase Cancer Center includes some of the region’s top lung cancer specialists.
  • If your scan reveals signs of heart disease, I can help you make an appointment with a cardiologist at Temple, which has renowned heart and vascular experts and advanced care.

I will also make sure that your primary care doctor knows about your test results. It’s always important for your doctors to have a complete picture of your care.

This kind of comprehensive follow-up care after a lung cancer screening is what our patients feel makes the Healthy Chest Initiative at Temple an outstanding and unique program.

Find out if screening is right for you

If you believe you are a candidate for lung cancer screening and want to be tested, make an appointment with a Temple pulmonologist who can determine if screening is the right choice for you.

Lung cancer screenings are available at multiple Temple Health and Fox Chase Cancer Center locations.

Helpful Resources

Looking for more information?

Melissa Liverpool, RN

Melissa Liverpool, RN, is a Nurse Navigator for the Temple Healthy Chest Initiative.

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