According to the National Cancer Database, Oklahoma sees 60.2 cases of small-cell carcinoma per 100,000 people, and Muskogee County sees 74.7 cases per 100,000. Both are well above the national average of 54.1 cases per 100,000. The data was collected between 2008 and 2012.
However, two oncologists at EASTAR Health System are bringing hope to those wanting to diagnose cancer earlier.
Dr. Selam Negusse, a radiation oncologist, and Dr. Fuad Hassany, a medical oncologist, are bringing a relatively new cancer screening technique to EASTAR. The screening, which uses a low-density computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, has been found to catch lung cancer in much earlier stages, both doctors said.
Hassany said that with the new screening process, they would be able to “make an impact on survival” for lung cancer patients.
“In the past, we’ve used chest X-rays and sputum tests to check for abnormal cells,” he said. “That did not show any benefit. But new studies have shown that by using this fast, low-density CAT scan, you can pick up early stage cancer and impact survival.”
According to a National Cancer Institute lung cancer screening trial, screening individuals with low-dose CAT scans could reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent.
Negusse said the problem with lung cancer is that it’s so hard to detect in the early stages, and when detected in the later stages, it’s almost certainly too late.
“In the early stages there are no symptoms,” Negusse said. “You only notice something is wrong when you experience weight loss, coughing up blood, or shortness of breath. By that point, it’s already at stage three or stage four.
“If we do this screening, and we’re able to catch it in stage one or stage two, survival rates are much higher. The cure rates are higher as well. For stage two, two-year survival is as high as 92 or 93 percent.”
Hassany said that the screening procedure has been approved by Medicare and the American Cancer Society.
“Medicare is paying for it,” Hassany said. “And most of the other insurances are paying for it, as well.”
Belinda Farmer, the director of oncology and wound care, said that even if insurance doesn’t cover the cost, the procedure is affordable for its potential life-saving effects.
“The procedure is $125,” Farmer said. “Plus there is an additional cash discount for patients who prefer to pay cash.”
Hassany said the screening should be done once per year. He compared it to a mammogram.
“The only difference is, a mammogram is for all women, and this screening is for high-risk patients,” he said. “The first thing we’re going to tell people is they need to stop smoking. If you stop smoking now, and go on this program and we find cancer in the early stage, there’s a good chance we can cure you.”
Negusse added that the statistics for lung cancer are not very positive.
“Lung cancer is the second-leading killer for men and women,” she said. “For women, breast cancer is No. 1, and men, prostate cancer is No. 1. But lung cancer is the No. 1 killer of men and women both. And the chance for surviving five years with lung cancer is about 15 percent.”