By Lisa McGovern, Executive Director, Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program | Published on December 11, 2023
In November, the West Virginia University (WVU) Cancer Institute welcomed my colleague Kyra Meister and me, along with Charlie Capito (married to Sen. Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia), who serves on Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Program Executive Council, to visit LUCAS. The mobile Lung Cancer Screening Unit is increasing lung cancer screening rates in the state by making them more accessible, literally meeting people where they are by traveling through the nooks and crannies of the Mountain State.
In addition to providing crucial scans, LUCAS serves as a “ginormous billboard for lung cancer screening,” according to Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, Director of the WVU Cancer Institute. It was built during COVID and has helped patients feel safe and comfortable, rebuilding trust in the health care system that eroded during the pandemic.
LUCAS is the first fully mobile, artificial –intelligence-powered unit for low-dose lung computed tomography (LDCT) cancer screening in the nation. The need for this service in West Virginia is great: The unit visits 42 counties that are without immediate lung cancer screening services. Since 2021, LUCAS has provided over 2,300 screenings. This is a critical service, because lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, accounting for 18% of all new cancer cases in the state and causing more cancer deaths than colorectal, prostate and breast cancers combined. Approximately 200,000 West Virginians are eligible for lung cancer screening, but only 5% of those eligible for LDCT are up to date on their screening.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation is proud to have awarded two grants to help fund LUCAS as part of the Foundation’s community grants program. The LUCAS program is a model of best practices, using evidence-based messaging and technical assistance to increase lung cancer screening in West Virginia. As part of the Congressional Families Program, congressional spouses like Charlie and me use our platforms to highlight such resources in our home communities in hopes of increasing local screening rates; we also showcase innovation and excellence so it can be replicated throughout our country and beyond.
What’s it like in there?
Inside LUCAS, the 48-foot unit is equipped with an LDCT scanner and the most caring team imaginable. This includes veterans Eric Reed, the mobile CT technician, and John Trembly, who has the challenge of driving LUCAS along the mountainous roads of West Virginia and putting folks at ease as they complete intake paperwork, as well as Anna Baker, a CT technician who, like her colleagues, leaves her family for a week at a time to travel to West Virginia’s most rural areas.
As John will tell you, the paperwork, while by no means burdensome, is the longest part of the visit. A typical scan takes less than a minute and you don’t even need to change into a gown! You will be asked to lay down, hold your breath briefly and be screened.
When you’re done, a radiologist will receive and review your scan; you and your health care provider will receive the results within 30 days, and your provider will discuss them with you. If you get the all-clear, you should continue to get screened annually. Patients with findings that require further diagnosis or treatment are referred to their physician or health care facilities for evaluation.
LEARN MORE: See a tour of LUCAS
Who can get screened?
Insurance coverage may vary, but LUCAS serves all eligible* people, regardless of their ability to pay. To get screened with LUCAS, check out the calendar of upcoming LUCAS visits around West Virginia and contact your health care provider to determine your eligibility and coverage and get the required order for screening.
With great compassion, WVU built LUCAS to remove the stigma, shame and fear often felt by people who smoke and who are at greatest risk for lung cancer. One of the biggest takeaways from our visit was that WVU and the Prevent Cancer Foundation are partners in hope. We have a shared goal of saving lives by detecting cancer early, because Early Detection = Better Outcomes.
*For more information on eligibility and insurance coverage, visit cancer.wvumedicine.org/lucas.