Health Sciences North is looking for more participants for a pilot lung cancer screening program.

Last year, the Sudbury Hospital, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, launched its high-risk lung cancer screening program.

HSN was one of three hospitals in Ontario, along with Lakeridge Health in Oshawa and the Ottawa Hospital.

The idea for the pilot program came from a large study in the United States which found that low-dose CT scans in individuals of a certain age and in the history of smoking could help to determine if there were any abnormalities Can cause lung cancer.

Dr. Amanda Hey, Northeast Cancer Center regional primary care director, says it's important to have such a program, especially in our region.

"In the northeast, we have higher incidence rates for lung cancer than the rest of Ontario and a poor five-year lung cancer survival," she says.

"That's partly because we have higher smoking rates in northeastern Ontario than the rest of the province."

Hey, when the opportunity presented itself to test the evidence for the trial at pilot sites, the Sudbury hospital was ready for the opportunity.

The pilot program will show how best to develop the steps for a lung cancer screening program in Ontario.

Early detection could lead to a reduction in deaths

When the pilot was launched last year, Hey indicated that potential attendees had more interest when the program had the capacity to handle it. This meant longer waiting times for the patients.

She adds that the program had additional capacity in 2018 to accommodate more patients for low-dose CT scans.

"We were given an increased capacity to double the number of low-dose CT spots, and now we just want to know we have more slots and shorter waiting times," says Hey.

Dr. Amanda Hey is the regional primary care director of the Northeast Cancer Center. She says that evidence from the United States shows that early detection of lung cancer can lead to a 20 percent reduction in deaths. (Kirthana Sasitharan / CBC)

Findings found so far in the study indicate that the number of deaths from lung cancer can be reduced by 20 percent through early detection.

Hey, this is especially important because patients who have lung cancer often do not have a long survival.

"Most cases of lung cancer are diagnosed late, where they are already spreading to other organs," says Hey.

"That's why we currently have very poor lung cancer survival rates."

She adds that the reason for the screening is to find lung cancer earlier, then the patient can be treated.

"No guessing"

Marcel Gravel took part in the pilot.

He says he was glad he did what the test could find. After being referred to the pilot by his healthcare provider, the screening revealed knots on his lungs.

"That was really an awakening for me."

"We set about taking biopsies and trying it out, to find out luckily. [the nodules were] benign I was one of the lucky ones, "says Kies.

He comes from a large family of smokers, of whom he says that most have quit now. Kies says he lost a brother in lung cancer.

While smoking, Gravel said there was always a thought about what might happen to him.

"If you smoke long and smoke as much as many of us, there is always something in the back of your mind saying that there is always the possibility that something will come back to haunt you as you get older." Says Gravel.

Marcel Gravel participated in the Health Sciences North lung cancer screening program. The screening found benign nodules in his lungs through early detection. (Kirthana Sasitharan / CBC)

When offered the opportunity to become part of the pilot, Gravel says that he was helping him when there are problems. He also adds that he did not know what the process was to detect lung cancer before he became involved in the project.

"I found that a CT scan was far superior, it's much faster, more efficient, and the results are much more stable, with no assumptions left," he says.

"I think it's a big step forward."

Participants who are interested in joining the program and have a smoking history between the ages of 55 and 74 can contact Health Sciences North.

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