Dr. Randy Martin: Chronic lung disease is a major killer of Americans and unfortunately, many people who have it are not diagnosed. Now a study shows there may be a new way to aid in early detection. I met with Dr. Georgia Thompson, a radiologist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, to learn more.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major cause of death in smokers. Approximately 25 million Americans suffer from this condition and as many as half of them do not even know they have it. This disease, which encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis, interferes with a person’s ability to breathe normally.
According to Georgia Thompson, M.D., a radiologist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, the most common tests used to detect COPD include spirometry or pulmonary function tests, as well as ancillary tests, such as blood gases and chest X-rays. However, in a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, experts studied the use of CT scans to detect COPD in patients.
“There was a trial performed overseas that enrolled about 1,100 men, with an average age of 62.5, who were former heavy smokers,” says Dr. Thompson. “They were performing screening lung CTs for cancer, so they added additional tests to see how [helpful they were for detecting] COPD.”
Promising Results from CT Scans
“[Researchers] found they picked up COPD more frequently with the pulmonary function test, but they didn’t do badly with the CT scan,” she explains.
It is possible that when doctors are performing CT scans to detect lung cancer, they can also detect COPD.
“We see evidence of emphysema on regular CT scans and we mention that in our reports,” says Dr. Thompson. “This study did a more quantitative analysis.”
The study found that using CT to screen for lung cancer decreased deaths by about 20 percent, but would CT scanning for COPD have a similar effect?
“I think it could be because if [physicians] find COPD and patients stop smoking, the progression of the disease may be diminished,” she says.
“We’re already reporting emphysema when we see it, but we may start doing more inspiratory and expiratory scanning,” she says. “We have a few pulmonologists who are requesting it already, so I think it’s possible that we will be doing more of this in the future.”
The bottom line? If you are, or have been, a smoker, Dr. Thompson recommends that you talk with your doctor about getting a CT scan to look for both lung cancer and chronic lung disease.
Dr. Randy Martin: Dr. Thompson has shared a lot of good information. Remember, COPD is under-diagnosed, so if you have any questions, you really need to check with your doctor. A CT scan may be an aid in early detection.