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Screening saves lives: Risk of lung cancer mortality drops 20% with early detection

Staff Writer | April 17, 2023 1:08 AM

Coming from one of the best lung cancer screening facilities in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Todd Hoopman wants to see as many people as he can at Kootenai Health.

“We know lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States,” Hoopman said. “More people die of lung cancer than the next three added together, which is breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. The concern is real, but the reality is scary.”

Because lung cancer is so prevalent and deadly, and smoking is directly linked to lung cancer, he sees firsthand what early lung scans can do for people who smoke or have smoked.

In 2022 the Kootenai Outpatient Imaging at Kootenai Health conducted 1,048 screenings, but estimated it should be doing between 7,000-8,000 per year to reach everyone who needs one, which would represent a significant surge in the tests at the hospital.

“I will build the capability,” Hoopman said.

He is not daunted by crowds, and invites anyone over 50 who is a current smoker, or who smoked a pack a day for 20 years, or half a pack per day for 40 years, until 15 years ago, to see their primary care provider for a referral for a scan. And then he wants to see them come back every year for another one.

The risk of mortality drops by 20% with early detection, so Hoopman encourages anyone who fits the criteria to get a lung scan.

But just 7% of the people who are at the highest risk of lung cancer are receiving scans.

Guilt about their smoking, fear or futility can prevent smokers from seeking scans.

Quitting smoking is important, Hoopman said, and encouraged, but it’s not a prerequisite to receive care.

Scans can also be covered under Medicare, so cost shouldn’t be a prohibitive factor, but patients do need to be referred by a primary care provider.

The scans aren't painful, can be helpful and they can save lives, Hoopman said.

Kootenai Health is a center of screening excellence, equipped with state of the art advanced technology for early detection and treatment.

“We have the full suite of diagnostic capability, and the full suite of therapeutic capability,” Hoopman said.

Kootenai Health is the only hospital in North Idaho with an advanced navigational bronchoscopy department, and the only hospital in North Idaho that is doing robotic lung resections. The hospital takes referrals from Montana, up to the Canadian border and down to Lewiston for early detection scans or lung cancer treatment.

Pulmonology is his passion, and Hoopman is at the tip of the sword for lung cancer treatment nationally.

“Dr. Hoopman is one of the leaders in this type of medicine in the country, and he trains people across the country,” said Caiti Bobbitt, who handles public affairs for Kootenai Health. “I don’t think people realize what an incredible provider we have here and how lucky North Idaho is to have someone who is literally revolutionizing this type of medicine.”

Behind the curtain are other proactive systems to reduce the risk of death from lung cancer.

“We have a really fascinating software program that, in the background, examines all of the CAT scan reports,” Hoopman said. “And it looks for the scans that are higher risk.”

The software creates a report with high-risk scans that doctors and nurses can use to talk to a primary care physician for proactive care, which saves lives.

Hoopman and his team are awestruck when their surgeries save lives.

“When I found this, it became my passion,” Hoopman said. “We all have that passion for the process and the program.”

This article has been updated to reflect the smoking frequency to be eligible for a scan for clarity.

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