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Practice offers new, low price screenings for heavy smokers

By Katie Demeria

Winchester Imaging has started offering screenings for high-risk smokers at a reduced price in order to catch lung cancer as early as possible.

CT scans usually cost around $1,500, according to Matthew DesRosiers, administrator at Winchester Radiologists. High-risk individuals, however, will be offered the screenings for $195.

Those considered high risk are usually individuals over 50 years old who have smoked for 30 "pack years." A pack year means they have smoked one pack a day throughout the entire year.

"Lung cancer that is not caught early has a very low survival rate," DesRosiers said. "We're saving people's lives if we can catch it early."

Recent national studies have pointed to these screenings as particularly beneficial to the high-risk population. According to a recent study into their benefits by the American College of Radiology, these screenings have a "20 percent lung cancer-specific mortality benefit for patients."

Even some other, more common screenings, such as mammograms or colonoscopies, do not have a success rate that high, DesRosiers pointed out.

Dr. James Sluss of Winchester Radiologists said one of the benefits of using CT scans is that they can be used at a lower radiation dose, reducing the risk to the patients even further.

"Lung cancer screening is a useful and worthwhile test to use in the appropriate population," Sluss said. "The longer you smoke, the more likely you are to develop cancer."

The earlier lung cancer is caught the better, Sluss said. Of course, he added, the best thing smokers can do is quit smoking. But even those who quit 15 years prior, he said, are still at risk.

"We think it's important to have [the screening] done every year," he said. "Once you're high risk, you're high risk."

Right now, neither Medicare nor most private insurance companies will cover the screenings, which is why the practice is offering them at a reduced price.

"You have a couple benefits," Sluss said. "First, you have relative peace of mind -- for $195 they'll know they have nothing to worry about.

"Two, if we do find something, we'll hopefully can catch it before it spreads and becomes even worse."

DesRosiers said he is hopeful that, over time, the CT scans will become a regular type of screening for the high-risk population that is covered by insurance.

The news release stated that Winchester Imaging is the only practice offering this service in Frederick, Warren or Shenandoah counties.

DesRosiers said he is hopeful that the service will be spread throughout the area.

"Once the program is established and there are a certain amount of people participating, then we should be able to expand it to different Valley Health hospitals," he said.

The service, he added, will be useful to the Northern Shenandoah Valley, which is oftentimes considered a high smoking zone.

"Any time you can benefit the patient population, I think, is worthwhile," he said. "That's what we're trying to do -- provide services that are good patient care, and beneficial to the community."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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