The Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) launched a national pilot initiative to provide at-risk veterans with life-saving information and services as a kickoff to Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Working closely with select medical centers and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), a national veterans’ advocacy organization, LCA aims to educate veterans about their elevated risk for lung cancer and the potential risks and benefits of screening for the disease before any symptoms of lung cancer arise.
Walter Reed National Medical Military Center in Bethseda, Maryland, a recently expanded flagship facility for military healthcare, leads the initiative, which began November 8.
“There is no better way to honor the men and woman who have served our country than with an initiative that could save their lives,” said Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, USN, (ret), LCA’s board chairman. “I applaud VVA, Walter Reed and the participating medical centers for supporting this pilot program and for contributing to the establishment of best practices for screening our high-risk veterans.”
Veterans at Higher Risk for Lung Cancer
Compared to civilians, most veterans are at a 25 to 50 percent higher risk for developing lung cancer. This is because of the group’s higher-than-average smoking rates as well as their exposure to various known carcinogens during active duty.
Every branch of the military once made extensive use of asbestos, a toxic mineral fiber that has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma and a slew of other chronic respiratory illnesses.
In addition to harmful exposures to asbestos, Vietnam veterans also face a higher likelihood of developing lung cancer from exposures to agent orange and other herbicides that were used in chemical warfare.
Because lung cancer can take decades to develop, screening high-risk individuals with low-dose CT scans can identify the disease before it causes breathing complications and other troublesome symptoms. When diagnosed at this stage of development, lung cancer is most treatable and curable.
Pros and Cons of Screening
In 2010, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) confirmed that CT screening people at high-risk for lung cancer can significantly reduce the total number deaths from lung cancer — a cancer that kills more people per year than breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined. Screening with low-dose computed tomography was found to reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent.
Screening does not come without risks. There still is some uncertainty about the long-term risks of radiation exposure involved with CT screening.
And a recent large-scale study of lung cancer screening found that in each round of screening, 20 percent of patients received positive results that required follow-up — while only 1 percent actually had lung cancer.
LCA and VVA say that U.S. veterans have a right to know all the facts about lung cancer screening risks. To ensure that the screening initiative is carried out safely, Lung Cancer Alliance is collaborating with medical centers that support the high standards outlined in LCA’s National Framework for Excellence in Lung Cancer Screening and Continuum of Care.
Joining the Walter Reed National Medical Military Center from through November 13 in this initiative will be the following esteemed medical centers:
- Lahey Clinic; Burlington, Mass.
- Middlesex Hospital Cancer Center; Middleton, Conn.
- Norton Healthcare; Louisville, Ky.
- Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Buffalo, N.Y.
- St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; Phoenix, Ariz.
- Swedish Cancer Institute; Seattle, Wash.
- Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; Miami, Fla.
- WellStar Health System; Atlanta, Ga.
In accordance with LCA’s National Framework, these facilities will discuss the pros and cons of low-dose CT screening with veterans, and if necessary, initiate the screening process and follow-up care.
Two of the participating medical centers — Lahey Clinic and Middlesex Hospital — will provide education and CT screening to local veterans free of charge.