More recruits needed for cancer screening pilot program in Sudbury

Health Sciences North is looking for more participants for a lung cancer early detection pilot program. Last year, the hospital in Sudbury, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, launched its lung cancer screening program for high risk individuals.

Finding lung cancer early could mean a 20 per cent reduction in deaths

A pilot program at Health Sciences North in Sudbury is using low dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer. (Supplied/Health Sciences North )

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

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

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

The idea for the pilot program came from a large trial in the United States, which determined that low dose CT scans, performed on people of a certain age and smoking history, could help to identify whether there were anomalies that could lead to lung cancer.

Dr. Amanda Hey, regional primary care lead for the Northeast Cancer Centre, says its important to have a program like this, 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 survival rate from lung cancer," she says.

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

Hey says when the opportunity came for the evidence of the trial to be tested in pilot sites, the hospital in Sudbury was up for the chance.

The pilot program is meant to see how best to develop the steps for a lung cancer screening program in Ontario.

Early detection could lead to reduction in deaths

When the the pilot launched last year, Hey says there was more interest from potential participants than the program had the capacity to handle. That meant longer wait times for patients.

She adds that in 2018, the program received additional capacity to take in more patients to have low dose CT scans.

"We were granted increased capacity to double the number of low dose CT spots. So now we just want to get the word out that we have more slots and shorter wait times," Hey says.

Dr. Amanda Hey is the Regional Primary Care lead for the Northeast Cancer Centre. She says trial evidence out of the United States shows that early detection in lung cancer can lead to a 20 per cent reduction in deaths. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Evidence found in the trial so far suggests that lung cancer deaths can be reduced by 20 per cent through early detection.

Hey says this is especially important because patients who come in with lung cancer often don't have a long survival rate.

"Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage, where it's already spread to other organs," Hey says.

"That's why we have very poor survival rates from lung cancer at present."

She adds the rationale behind screening is to find lung cancer earlier, then the patient can be treated.

"No guesswork any longer"

Marcel Gravel participated in the pilot.

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

"That was really an awakening for me."

"We moved on to taking biopsies and checking it out to find out that fortunately, [the nodules were] benign. I was one of the fortunate ones," Gravel says.

He comes from a large family of smokers, most of whom he says have quit now. Gravel says he's lost a brother-in-law to lung cancer.

While smoking, Gravel says there was always an afterthought regarding what could happen to him.

"If you've smoked for a long time, and you smoke as much as many of us did, there's always something at the back of your mind saying, there's always a possibility that something may come back to haunt you as you get older," Gravel says.

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

When the opportunity came up to be a part of the pilot, Gravel says it was participating that help him realize if there were issues. He also adds he didn`t know what the process was like to detect lung cancer before he became involved in the project.

"I've come to find out a CT scan was far, far, superior. Much quicker, much more efficient, and the results are far more stable. There was no guesswork any longer," he says.

"I think it's a major, major step forward."

Participants who are interested in being a part of the program, and are between the ages of 55 and 74 with a smoking history, can contact Health Sciences North.

About the Author

Kirthana Sasitharan is a Journalist with CBC News. Reach her on twitter @KirthanaSasitha.