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Using low-dose cat scans to find lung cancer

Lung cancer is the number one killer when it comes to cancer deaths

Lung cancer is the number one killer when it comes to cancer deaths. Sadly for smokers, identifying symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath as cancer, is difficult.

"All smokers have some scaring in their lungs quite a bit in some cases, and that can make finding these little spots difficult," says Dr. Kevin Gillespie, MD with Mercy Medical Center.

The "little spots" Dr. Gillespie talks about are masses in the lungs that could be cancerous. Chest x-rays do not pick up on these spots very well.

Instead, doctors need to use a cat scan.

"Cat scans are able to find it when it's small," says Dr. Gillespie. "And that's what we are looking for, small spots in the lung before they have had a chance to spread."

Within the past few years, doctors at Mercy Medical Center have started using low-dose cat scans to identify potentially cancerous spots, using significantly less radiation.

"The general cat scans have an eight times higher dose and so this technique actually has the radiation equivalent to about a mammogram, so it's very low," says Dr. Gillespie. "But the dose is adequate that we can see the lungs well enough to make a diagnosis."

Dr. Gillespie says the procedure takes only about fifteen minutes, with the scan itself lasting around one minute.

After a spot is identified, doctors will monitor the spot with additional scans a few months to a year afterwards, to determine if they are indeed cancerous.

It is with this procedure that doctors can catch lung cancer earlier, leading to a greater chance of saving lives.

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