Miller School Hosts International Lung Cancer Conference

Scores of lung cancer experts from around the world gathered at the Miller School of Medicine April 16 for the 26th International Conference on Screening for Lung Cancer. The two-day conference, a function of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP), is focusing on screening research for current and former smokers, and patients who have never smoked but have been exposed to secondhand smoke and, therefore, are at risk for developing lung cancer and other diseases associated with exposure to tobacco smoke.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center launched a lung cancer screening program in November 2011 – just as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network unveiled its recommendations for lung cancer screening guidelines – and has been selected as a screening site for another study initiative with broad implications.

Richard Thurer, M.D., professor of surgery and co-leader of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Sylvester, says hosting this conference is a natural outgrowth of Sylvester’s expertise in this field. “We are very excited about bringing together all these experts to share ideas about the potential of screening programs,” said Thurer.

Among the topics on the agenda are lung cancer in people who have never smoked, ways to reduce the side effects of screening, standardizing guidelines, and the ravages of secondhand tobacco smoke exposure.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in the nation for both men and women. An estimated 250,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012 and 150,000 will die. In Florida alone, lung cancer will claim 10,000 lives.

Screening programs, like the one at Sylvester, are aimed at reducing those numbers with early detection. Physicians and scientists know that current and former smokers are at the greatest risk for lung cancer, but there is ongoing research to determine others who would benefit from screening. Currently, most screening programs, like Sylvester’s, examine a person’s family and smoking history to determine their risk and whether they’re a candidate for the screening, which consists of a non-contrast, low-dose CT scan of the chest, performed in a few minutes at a nominal cost.

The Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI), with I-ELCAP, is conducting a critical study on the health effects of secondhand tobacco smoke exposure. Funded through an $8.7 million FAMRI grant, the initiative will employ a multidisciplinary approach to enhance early detection and treatment of diseases related to secondhand tobacco smoke, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, sinusitis, osteoporosis and lung cancer. The emphasis will be on workers in industries with a high degree of secondhand tobacco smoke exposure – including flight attendants, restaurant and entertainment professionals.

The plans call for the recruitment of 5,000 patients at sites around the nation, making the FAMRI-IELCAP Collaborative Network the largest CT screening effort in the world targeting non-smokers. Sylvester is a site for screening flight attendants as part of the FAMRI program.

At this year’s meeting, physicians hope to develop a position statement that may change the guidelines associated with lung cancer screening, calling for a standard for diagnosis and treatment that is adopted worldwide, much like mammograms and PSA tests are performed regularly.

Tammy Baxter, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and co-leader of Sylvester’s screening program, hopes the meeting will lead to wider acceptance of the screenings. “Adopting regular screenings, especially for those at high risk, will help us catch lung cancer at a much earlier stage, and inevitably, that will help save lives,” she said.

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