Western Reserve Hospital’s Lung Health Program: Saving Lives, Improving Lifestyles

by Neil Allen
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A key component in Western Reserve Hospital’s Lung Health Program is this low-dose helical computed tomography (CT), which is extremely accurate for early detection of cancers and nodules.

Charles Fuenning, MD, pulmonologist and critical care physician and Chief Medical Officer of Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Lung cancer is a deadly and expensive disease. It is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 out of 4 cancer deaths are from lung cancer. In fact, more people die of lung cancer each year than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. And the incidence of this disease continues to grow. In 2016, the ACS predicted a total of about 224,390 new cases of lung cancer (117,920 in men and 106,470 in women) compared to a total of 220,208 in 2015 (115,610 in men and 104,598 in women).

The financial burden is just as troubling. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health care for people with lung cancer cost the U.S. more than $13.4 billion in 2015.

This trend, along with what was at the time a just-approved NIH use of technology, led the physician leaders of Western Reserve Hospital to create and launch its Lung Health Program in 2013.

“While lung cancer is the number one cause of death in this country, it is important to understand that it is also the number one preventable form of cancer,” says Charles Fuenning, MD, pulmonologist and critical care physician and Chief Medical Officer of Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. “We created the Lung Health Program to help with early identification of the disease, and to provide tools and education that are designed to help patients stop habits that lead to and exacerbate current lung health problems they may have.”


Helical CT produces high-resolution 3-D images of lung nodules. The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) of 2012 reported a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer among current or former heavy smokers who were screened with helical CT versus those screened by traditional chest X-ray.

A key component in Western Reserve Hospital’s Lung Health Program is the inclusion of low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) that produces a 3-dimensional image of the lungs. This screening measure has been proven extremely accurate for early detection of cancers and abnormalities in the chest. According to the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) of 2012, there was a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer among current or former heavy smokers who were screened with this rapid, non-invasive and painless CT versus those screened by traditional chest X-ray.

“One reason why lung cancer is so serious is because by the time symptoms have presented with a patient, the cancer may have already spread and become more difficult to treat,” says Jeffrey Unger, MD, Medical Director, Department of Radiology at Western Reserve Hospital. “Our program focuses on looking for cancer before there are any symptoms. If we can find cancer at an early stage, it can be easier and more successful to treat.”

In 2016, 31% of the people screened through the hospital’s Lung Health Program were found to have an abnormal nodule. Many of them were considered to be “high risk” — current or former heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 79. However, non-smokers who work or have worked in construction or fields where they’re exposed to asbestos and other airborne hazards, and those who live or have lived with smokers, could also be at higher risk.

The Lung Health Program utilizes the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of specialists to provide follow-up for evaluation of nodules. This team includes pulmonologists, radiologists, Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists, and other healthcare professionals focused on lung health.

“We work closely with the referring physician to help guide their patients on understanding the results of the CT scan, possible additional procedures and next steps, and resources for quitting,” says Dr. Unger.

Smoking addiction, co-morbidities, smoking history, medications and past quit attempts are taken into account during the treatment process in order to create an individualized smoking cessation plan. Patients receive an overall health evaluation and progress report that are reviewed when planning any future treatment in concert with their primary care physicians.

Dr. Fuenning points out that although early detection gives patients more treatment options, the best prevention for lung cancer is to quit smoking or never start.

“For those patients who need help quitting, our program offers several smoking-cessation initiatives, including free classes, and one-on-one counseling,” he says. “In addition, we offer a robust resource portal on our website with easy access to a ‘quit’ app that was developed by Pfizer in partnership with the American Lung Association.”

By all accounts, the Lung Health Program at Western Reserve Hospital has been a success. Tracked results show that 55% of participants remained at the quit rate one year following completion of the program, compared to the national average of 35%–40%. This positive outcome has reportedly saved hundreds of lives and improved lifestyles.

“Our motivation in designing and launching the Lung Health Program was to answer a community healthcare need,” says Dr. Fuenning. “We remain focused on providing the clinical services and investing in the community resources necessary to lessen the impact of this disease for those we serve. And we are confident we can help even more people as the Program continues to be utilized.”


To learn more about Western Reserve Hospital’s Lung Health Program, visit www.westernreservehospital.org/lunghealth or call 330-929-LUNG (5864).