Taking Lung Screening on the Road

By Sara Bondell - December 07, 2023

Lung cancer kills more than 127,000 people each year. There’s a screening test that could help reduce that number, but many who are eligible don’t use it.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual lung screening with a low-dose CT scan for adults ages 50 or older who have smoked a pack a day for the last 20 years or two packs a day for the last 10 years and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. If lung cancer is caught early, the five-year survival rate for patients is 60%, compared with around 7% if the disease has already spread.

However, only 5.7% of people at high risk for lung cancer are screened, according to the American Lung Association. Florida ranks among the worst states for lung screening, with only about 3% of eligible Floridians getting screened. Current qualified lung screening sites in the state are few and far between. The majority are located along the east coast, leaving huge gaps in Central Florida.

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"If everyone who is eligible to undergo lung cancer screening actually had the screening done, 60,000 lives per year would be saved."

- Jhanelle Gray, M.D., Chair, Thoracic Oncology Department

“If everyone who is eligible to undergo lung cancer screening actually had the screening done, 60,000 lives per year would be saved,” said Jhanelle Gray, M.D., chair of the Thoracic Oncology Department at Moffitt Cancer Center. “That’s a significant amount. This to me is low-hanging fruit. This is something we have to do.”

To reach more patients across diverse communities, Moffitt is taking its lung screening program on the road. The cancer center will operate the first mobile lung screening unit in the state.

The 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act awarded Moffitt $1 million for a mobile lung screening vehicle. Celia and Jim Ferman, longtime Moffitt supporters, also donated funds for the project.

“Early cancer detection saves lives,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who led the push for federal funding to purchase the mobile screening vehicle. “And the new Moffitt mobile lung cancer screening vehicle can visit communities that are underserved to increase screening rates across the Tampa Bay area. The Moffitt Cancer Center team is proactive on prevention and reaching patients where they are — and that’s going to make a difference.”

With initial funding in place, Moffitt is working to build a substantial community outreach and partnership development plan. Moffitt already has mobile screening programs for skin and head and neck cancers, but lung screening is dependent on strict eligibility criteria and can be processed through health insurance.

To lay the groundwork for mobile lung screening events, Moffitt will provide education on the importance of screening, explain eligibility and preregister participants ahead of time. The bus will be equipped with one CT scanner, and patients will be contacted in advance with information such as what to wear.

Moffitt’s mobile lung screening bus will be equipped with a CT scanner to screen patients on the spot. The bus could allow for up to 30 screenings per day at community events.
Moffitt’s mobile lung screening bus will be equipped with a CT scanner to screen patients on the spot. The bus could allow for up to 30 screenings per day at community events.

The bus could provide up to 30 screenings in a single day. Currently, Moffitt screens about 600 people per year. That number is increasing about 30% annually, and the mobile screening could give the numbers an even bigger boost.

“I think an issue is just the unknown. Lung screening is relatively new compared to other widely recognized screenings like breast and colon screening,” said Haley Tolbert, Moffitt’s community relations specialist for Thoracic Oncology. “I would imagine that if a patient can go to their church or local fire station, they would automatically feel more secure and be more willing to be screened.”

The bus is the latest advocacy effort supported by Moffitt to help increase the number of individuals screened for lung cancer. In September 2022, Moffitt physicians, researchers and patients traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional members and ask for support to increase access to and improve education about lung cancer screening.

“We got some really important questions on how to make this move forward in partnership,” Gray said. “We have drafted a policy letter with multiple items such as potential barriers and how to address them. Each one of the items we have on there can be its own policy that a representative can sponsor and help support as a bill.”

From left: Jhanelle Gray, MD, research coordinator Monica Reyes and community relations specialist Haley Tolbert traveled to Washington, D.C., in September 2022 to advocate for support for increased lung cancer screening efforts.
Jhanelle Gray, M,D,, left, research coordinator Monica Reyes and community relations specialist Haley Tolbert traveled to Washington, D.C., in September 2022 to advocate for support for increased lung cancer screening efforts.

Reps. Brian Higgins and Kathy Castor are currently working on drafting bills based on the recommendations.

Moffitt has also partnered with more than 50 other cancer organizations to issue a call to action urging individuals, providers and insurers to increase access to and utilize low-dose CT scans for those at high risk for lung cancer. The effort supports the national Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years.

Closer to home, Moffitt spearheads a lung cancer screening roundtable with 30 lung screening sites around Florida. The group meets quarterly to share best practices and drive alignment across all sites.

The lung screening bus should be ready to hit the road in the fall of 2024.

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Sara Bondell Medical Science Writer More Articles

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