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Mature Focus: June 5

News & Notes

A low-dose CT test available to many current and former smokers can help detect lung cancer at a more treatable stage.

Lung screening saves lives

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., as well as in Missouri. But for many smokers and ex-smokers who are at increased risk, a yearly screening test is available that can help detect lung cancer at earlier stages, when it is most treatable.

The screening test is called low-dose computed tomography, or low-dose CT. It is available to current and former smokers between the ages of 55 and 80 who have at least a 30 “pack-year” smoking history – meaning they have smoked a pack or more of cigarettes per day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or three packs a day for 10 years. Former smokers must have quit within the past 15 years.

The test is covered by Medicare and most other health insurance plans. Research has shown that it can lower the risk of dying of lung cancer by 16%, and lower the risk of dying from any cause by about 7%.

While these percentages may not seem very significant, it is estimated that if every American who is eligible for low-dose CT screening actually received it, about 10,000 lives could be saved every year, according to Dr. Graham Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center and an international expert in cancer prevention.

But even though the test can save lives, it also carries potential risks that are important to consider, Colditz pointed out.

First, low-dose CT has a relatively high false positive rate, when the test initially finds something that looks like cancer but actually is not. False positives can create a great deal of stress and anxiety, and lead to other follow-up tests that have their own risks.

Second, low-dose CT screening can lead to overdiagnosis of cancers that would not cause any health issues if they hadn’t been found. These slow-growing types of cancers are often still treated – and the treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy, certainly have risks, he added.

Finally, there’s a small health risk from the radiation used during the low-dose CT scan itself. Colditz said he recommends that current and former smokers talk to their healthcare providers about both the benefits and risks of screening, and decide together whether it’s the right choice.

Details about Siteman’s lung cancer screening program are available on the organization’s website [https://siteman.wustl.edu/prevention/screening/]. General information about the testing also can be found on the National Institutes of Health website at https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/lung-screening-pdq.

More eye shingles seen

A recent study shows that cases of shingles of the eye have tripled over the past decade.

More Americans than ever before are being diagnosed with shingles of the eye, according to recent research from the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center. Among a group of 21 million U.S. adults, occurrences of herpes zoster ophthalmicus [HZO] – when shingles gets in the eyes – tripled over the 12-year-period from 2004 to 2016.

According to study author Nakul Shekhawat, M.D., MPH, it’s important to figure out which patients are at greatest risk for HZO and how to prevent it “because of the severity of the disease and potential sight-threatening complications.”

Shingles is different than chickenpox, even though they are both caused by the varicella virus.

Years or decades after someone recovers from chickenpox, the virus can become active again, causing shingles, a painful infection that often causes a blistering rash. In HZO, the infection causes eye redness and swelling, burning and irritation, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. In some cases, it leads to corneal scarring and blindness.

HZO infections were shown in the study to be most common in women and adults over age 75. While shingles has been occurring more frequently in younger adults as well, it is still considered one of the hazards of advancing age, Shekhawat said.

“Older patients were at far greater risk for HZO, highlighting just how important it is for older adults to get the shingles vaccination,” he added

The newest available shingles vaccine, Shingrix, provides strong protection from shingles and its complications, including HZO – but the vaccine is not yet widely used.

Two doses of Shingrix are more than 90% effective at preventing shingles. The vaccine is recommended for those age 50 and older.

On the calendar

The Alzheimer’s Association, St. Louis Chapter presents Living with Memory Loss, a four-part program on Saturdays beginning June 8, from 10 a.m.-noon at the Corporate Parkway Library Branch, 1200 Corporate Parkway in Wentzville. This interactive program is open to people with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and their family members. The program is free. Registration is required; visit bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or call (636) 928-9355.

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Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital offers a “Freezing of Gait” Boot Camp for people with Parkinson disease on Mondays, June 10 through July 1, from 10 a.m.-noon at Barnes Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 6 Jungermann Circle in St. Peters, in Suite 117 of the Healthwise Center. Freezing is a temporary, involuntary inability to move caused by Parkinson’s; boot camp participants will learn and practice strategies for overcoming a freezing episode. The sessions are free, but space is limited; registration is required by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events [please register the patient only].

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A special presentation by Baue, Conversations About Advance Funeral Planning, is on Wednesday, June 19 from 9-10 a.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. Get answers to your questions during this discussion on funeral and cemetery pre-planning; there is no cost to attend. Register online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or by calling (636) 928-9355.

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Free bone density screenings for women are offered on Thursday, June 20 from 6–8 p.m. and on Wednesday, July 10 from 10 a.m.– noon at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. For more information and to register, call (636) 928-9355.

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