HOUSTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Implementing a lung cancer screening program in a community hospital setting is feasible and saves lives, but implementation comes with its share of challenges, results from a single-center analysis demonstrated.

“Deaths from lung cancer surpass mortality of all other malignancies,” Simran Randhawa, MD, said during a press briefing at the annual meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. “The majority of lung cancers are found at an advanced stage, and the 5-year overall survival has only marginally improved over the past 40 years, and is approximately 17% according to recent data.

“Most people who die from lung cancer are former smokers,” said Dr. Randhawa, of the Einstein Healthcare Network, Philadelphia. “Former smokers cannot benefit from primary prevention, so this is where lung cancer screening comes into action.”

In 2011, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) showed a 20% relative reduction in lung cancer death with annual low-dose CT of the chest in high-risk patients. The reduction in mortality by any cause was by 6.7%.

“The number needed to be screened to prevent one death is 320, which may seem like a lot, but it is a very competitive number when compared to mammography or colonoscopy,” Dr. Randhawa said. “Lung cancer screening is also cost effective. It costs about $73,000 per quality adjusted life year, which can be further improved if offered with smoking cessation intervention.”

In October 2013, Einstein Healthcare Network offered a free lung cancer screening program. The purpose of the current study, which was led by Doraid Jarrar, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, was to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a lung cancer screening program in a community hospital system, to identify barriers to adoption, and to benchmark their experience with NLST results.

They promoted the screening program through flyers, radio programs, face-to-face information sessions, and a multidisciplinary lung symposium, prospectively collected data over 12 months, and decided patient eligibility based on NLST criteria. Results were reported using the Lung CT Screening Reporting and Data System (Lung-RADS).

Dr. Randhawa reported results from a total of 278 patients. Their average age was 64 years, 62% were female, 65% were African American, and the average number of pack years was 43.

Most (88%) were diagnosed with Lung-RADS 1 or 2 (negative or benign appearance), 7% were Lung-RADS 3 (probably benign but requiring close follow-up with CT scan), and 5% were Lung-RADS 4 (suspicious with a chance of malignancy).

Of the 11 patients who were diagnosed with Lung-RADS 4, 4 underwent lifesaving lung resection surgery for stage 1 disease, 1 patient was diagnosed with stage 4 disease, and the rest were either benign on follow-up or lost to follow-up.

“On further investigation, we found that 60% of the patients who showed up for the lung cancer screening were referred to us by their primary care physician, 22% had heard about our program through flyers as well as radio advertisements, 2% via Web search, and 1% through newsletters,” Dr. Randhawa said.

At the end of the study period, the researchers distributed a survey to all primary care and referring physicians. About 42% said they referred more than 10 patients in the last year, while 16% made no such referrals. When asked if they knew that lung cancer screening is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on par with mammography and colonoscopy, 74% said that they knew, but 26% indicated that they were not aware of that fact.

“When asked about any barriers they may have encountered, one physician commented on the lack of time to counsel his patients,” Dr. Randhawa said. “Most of the physicians expressed concerns about precertification [delays] and requirement for prior authorization for lung cancer screening.”

She acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its small sample size and the fact that the researchers interviewed primary care physicians catering to an underserved population in the community, “which is not comparable to the NLST population,” she said.

“However, [our results] could be potentially more generalizable,” Dr. Randhawa noted. “In the future, we hope that there is evolving technology used for CT screening with reduction in radiation dose, and more accurate biomarkers will be developed to identify patients at highest risk for lung cancer. We aim to save lives through early detection of lung cancer with responsible CT lung screening.”

One of the study authors, Tracy Kane, MD, disclosed being a member of the speakers bureau for AstraZeneca and receiving honoraria from the company. The other researchers reported having no financial disclosures.