Creating a Best Practices Roadmap for Lung Cancer Screening Implementation

Juhi Kunde, Director of Patient Gateways and Science Marketing
Dr. Lawrence Benjamin smiling and quote from the article

Finding lung cancer in its early stages significantly increases the chance of successfully treating and even curing the disease. Low-dose CT is the current approved approach to screen for lung cancer in high-risk individuals who meet specific criteria for age and history of tobacco use. Unfortunately, only five percent of eligible people are screened for lung cancer in the US, while the screening rates for breast and colon cancer are significantly higher.  

To help increase lung cancer screening rates, LUNGevity awarded Lawrence Benjamin, MD, pulmonologist at University of California, Los Angeles with the 2023 Pierre Massion Award in honor of our late Scientific Advisory Board member, who was committed to increasing lung cancer screening rates and reducing disparities in health care.   

LUNGevity spoke with Dr. Benjamin to learn more about his research plans and how the award is helping him reach his goals. 

LUNGevity Foundation: Why is it important to support lung cancer research?  

Dr. Lawrence Benjamin: Despite some really amazing advances within our science and medical therapies over the last 10-20 years, lung cancer continues to be the largest cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States. It still kills more people than breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined.  

Lung cancer affects many of the patients that I see as a pulmonologist. It's a disease that affects populations differently. There are disparities between who develops lung cancer and who dies from the disease. This is especially true among women and some racial groups like African Americans.  

LF: How did your research project come about?  

LB: As a clinician, these disparities drive my desire to reduce those gaps and make sure that every patient who develops lung cancer has the opportunity to find it early and has the full range of medical therapies available to them. 

I saw the importance of early detection firsthand when I worked as a trainee at a VA hospital. I met with veterans who had a cough or a pain in their chest and we would find they had advanced lung cancer with limited treatment options.  

I wondered why we weren't getting to these patients sooner. I knew that lung cancer screening existed, and it had been recommended to many of these patients.  

I was surprised to learn how underutilized lung cancer screening was compared to other forms of cancer screening at the time. Even today, lung cancer screening rates are so much lower compared to screening rates for breast or colon cancer.  

That seemed like a perfect area for me to study. I am pursuing a PhD in Health Policy and Management, which focuses specifically on implementation science and organizational behavior.  

I want to try to find the best clinical practices and organizational practices that will allow us to close the gap in lung cancer screening rates.  

LF: Can you describe your research project?  

LB: There is a spectrum of how we screen people for lung cancer. Some healthcare systems ask patients to work directly with their primary care physician and rely on that one-on-one relationship. Other healthcare systems use a centralized program that is dedicated to cancer screenings. And some places have a little bit of both approaches. There's some evidence that suggests a centralized screening program may work better, but we need high-quality data to demonstrate a benefit in the real world.   

My hope is to create high-quality data that includes a lot of different healthcare models, so I can use it to advise healthcare systems on how they can successfully implement lung cancer screening in their communities. High-quality data can drive change.  

LF: Why is your research exciting for the lung cancer community?  

LB:  There are different ways to affect meaningful change in the lung cancer community. Many of them, such as developing new treatments, can take a long time to get to patients.  But, in theory, if you have a blueprint to follow to successfully implement lung cancer screening in your healthcare system, it doesn’t need to take a long time to go from being an idea to becoming a reality. 

My research focuses on identifying best practices and putting together a roadmap to show healthcare systems how they can pivot quickly to implement best practices in lung cancer screening.  

LF: How has LUNGevity’s research award impacted your work?  

LB: LUNGevity research awards are exciting, especially for researchers like me, who are early in our careers. Awards like this revolutionize the science we perform. I can now hire support staff to perform higher-quality statistical data analysis and data cleaning compared to what I was able to do before the award when I was doing the research on my own. I’m also able to progress more efficiently and more quickly toward the results I hope to achieve.  Especially for early career investigators, foundational awards, like the LUNGevity award, are groundbreaking and allow us to do much better science, more efficiently.  

Another benefit of the award is attending LUNGevity’s science meetings. They are a tremendous opportunity to learn, build collaborations, and improve the overall quality of research. Often, as we talk with other researchers, the best ideas can emerge from a conversation, or a collaboration can form. It’s remarkable. I’m honored to be part of LUNGevity’s scientific community. 

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