Targeting the mortality rate of lung cancer patients and promoting early detection, Addison Gilbert Hospital and Beverly Hospital — both part of Northeast Health System and its parent Lahey Health — are offering assessments and scans for those who qualify, free of charge.
And in an expanded outreach effort, they’re hosting those assessment sessions this week at the Gloucester Police Station, launching the project Monday and hosting another Thursday in the GPD conference room from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
The process — from screening assessment to the low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan to a radiologist’s services — is free.
Dr. Augustine “Austin” O’Keeffe, chief of radiology for Northeast, said the cooperative effort from radiologists and Northeast Health Systems is rooted in basic service.
“We think it’s the right thing do for our community,” he said.
Anyone between the ages of 50 and 74 who has smoked at least an average of one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years may qualify for the screening. From there, a radiologist would analyze the scan to see if there are any signs of lung cancer.
One of the first steps is identifying lung nodules or looking for lung infections, O’Keeffe said. O’Keeffe, who operates primarily out of Beverly Hospital but also works at Addison Gilbert, said nodules — the spots that show up on scans — are usually benign but can be malignant.
“It can be an early cancer or precursor of cancer,” he said.
Nodules show up as a lighter area on a dark background of lung tissue on an LDCT scan, he said.
At Monday’s police station session, the first step called for AGH staffers to determine whether a patient could qualify for an LDCT scan.
If a person was considered a high risk for lung cancer and met qualifications set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, he or she would then be scheduled for an LDCT scan.
The free scans began in November after successful runs in the past, Lahey Health officials said in a prepared statement. The program started at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in January 2012, and the results were published in the Journal of American College of Radiology in April of last year.
The Journal noted in its report that Lahey did not participate in a screening trial or an international lung-cancer action program and “needed to build the comprehensive lung cancer screening program infrastructure from the ground up.”
So far, the program has seen a lot of interest.
From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, Addison Gilbert Hospital screened more than 75 patients, according to Tina Ketchopulos, the Community Relations Coordinator for the Gloucester hospital. From those 75, 25 met requirements and had the LDCT scan at AGH, while 50 were scanned at Danvers. The patients chose the site; the scans usually run $350.
Monday morning, seven patients who visited the police station met the requirement to be scanned, as of midday, with an afternoon session to follow.
Ketchopulos said the results come back within two weeks, and those diagnosed as showing signs of lung cancer can follow up with oncologists, lung specialists and others, while AGH monitors follow-up appointments.
In July, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued draft recommendations for lung cancer screenings, with annual LDCT scans for high-risk people being one of them. A provision of the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover the cost of some preventative services by the task force.
Lung cancer kills more Americans annually than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, LDCT lung screenings could prevent at least one in five lung cancer deaths in a high-risk population and could save 12,000 lives every year, according to Lahey officials.
“The expansion of our free lung-screening program will save lives on the North Shore and open the doors to equal access to care for qualifying high-risk individuals,” said Denis Conroy, Chief Executive Officer of Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals in a prepared statement.
O’Keeffe noted the advantages of recognizing lung cancer through early detection.
“By catching lung cancer at Stage 1, there is an opportunity to lower lung cancer-specific mortality by 20 percent,” he said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-675-2708 or at email@example.com.