FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. -

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but the doctors at the Karmanos Cancer Institute are trying to help change that.

"One of the major problems with lung cancer is most patients are diagnosed with advance-staged disease, and that is the reason the outcome of these patients is not very good," said Dr. Shirish Gadgeel, leader of the thoracic multidisciplinary team at Karmanos.

To help catch cases of lung cancer before it's too late, Karmanos launched its Lung Cancer Screening Program for current and former smokers.

"Screening would help lung cancer because if we could detect it early, we could significantly improve the survival rate," said Gadgeel.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), a study of over 50,000 current or former heavy smokers conducted by the National Institutes of Health, showed that screening using three annual CT scans can reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer. The research found among high-risk adults, early detection of lung cancer through screening with a CT scan rather than a chest X-ray reduced cancer deaths by 20 percent.

Not every smoker needs to be screened.

"They have to be people that smoked for 1 pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years and they have to be between the ages of 55 and 80," said Gadgeel. "These are the individuals at highest risk of lung cancer."

There is the risk of finding spots that aren't cancer. That's where experience is key.

"One very important aspect of CT scan screening is that a proper team of doctors is accessing these scan results and defines who really needs further work up," said Gadgeel. "Which spots truly are something that needs to be followed up and which spots are probably just scar tissue and can be watched with just regular scans just once a year."

Susan Friedman smoked for 41 years before quitting for good seven years ago. She had the screening and has no sign of lung cancer.

"I like being proactive, and I guess that is the best word to sum it up, proactive," said Friedman.

The screening scans are available at the Karmanos Cancer Center Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center in Farmington Hills.

Karmanos is able to offer the initial lung cancer screening for the reduced cost of $100, thanks to the support of the Gianni Ferrarotti Lung Cancer Foundation which is partially underwriting the expense. Should there be a positive finding, future scans should be covered by insurance, otherwise the remaining two scans would also be charged the reduced out-of-pocket cost of $100 each.

To participate in Karmanos’ Lung Cancer Screening Program, call toll free 855-527-LUNG (855-527-5864) or email lungcancerscreening@karmanos.org.