Finding lung cancer sooner

Usually symptoms of lung cancer don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage, according to the American Cancer Society. The challenges in early diagnosis of lung cancer may contribute to the statistic that more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

But with a low-dose CT scan of the chest, a screening available at Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall and Madison Hospital, lung cancer can be detected in the early stages. To be eligible for the screening, patients must meet certain criteria related to their age and smoking history. They must also have a physician referral for the screening.

“Finding lung cancer early is absolutely key for patients to have the best chance for survival,” said Ricky Zalamea, MD, a radiologist with Radiology of Huntsville. “With a low-dose CT scan, we can see the cancer sooner than with a traditional chest X-ray.”

Data from 2016 certainly supports the effectiveness of  low-dose CT scans of the chest. Of the patients who received the screening at Huntsville Hospital in 2016 and were diagnosed with lung cancer as a result, 78 percent were diagnosed at an earlier stage of the disease.

“When you compare this statistic to national averages that indicate more than 65 percent of patients diagnosed with  lung cancer are at an advanced stage , we feel really good about our program and encourage those at risk for lung cancer  to talk to their physician to see if this screening is right for them,” said Karen Adams, RN director of Huntsville Hospital’s Cancer Program and the Center for Lung Health.

Getting the word out about the importance of lung cancer screening, and specifically the effectiveness of low-dose CT scans of the chest, is a goal of the Southeast Lung Alliance. A collaboration of physicians working to expand the utilization of lung cancer screening and successful programs in smoking cessation, the Southeast Lung Alliance recently held the inaugural Great Huntsville Smokeout: Doctor Showdown event to raise funds in support of its initiatives.

Recently Madison Hospital was designated as a Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology. Huntsville Hospital Imaging Center, located in the Medical Mall on the corner of Memorial Parkway and Governors Drive in Huntsville, received its designation in 2015.


CT scans provide cross-sectional images of the body that are more detailed than traditional X-rays. During the scan patients lie on a motorized table that slides through the CT scanner, which is shaped like a large doughnut standing on its side. Patient criteria for low-dose CT scan of the chest

 – Age 55-77

 – 30 or more pack year history (pack year history = packs smoked per day x years smoked)  – Active smoker as recently as 15 years ago  – No signs or symptoms of lung cancer

If you or someone you know meets this criteria, talk with your physician about a low-dose CT scan for lung cancer.