Early detection of lung cancer gives patient best odds for treatment
Following doctor’s recommendation for screening, cancer found in early, treatable stage
“It can’t hurt you.”
Some simple words convinced Mary to make an appointment for a low-dose CT lung screening.
Mary’s primary care doctor, McLaren Macomb’s Dr. Gail MacIntyre, knowing her patient was a smoker, recommended the screening.
For 35 years, Mary was an “about a pack-a-day” smoker. After 30 years as a patient of Dr. MacIntrye’s, Mary trusted her doctor’s advice to get a screening because of her greatly increased chance of developing lung cancer.
“The radiologist called the next day,” Mary said, having undergone the screening at McLaren Macomb. “He said they found a ‘small dot.’”
The diagnosis was not cancer. It wasn’t anything other than an area to keep an eye on and continue to monitor. For at least the next few years, Mary would have to get the same scan every six months.
But it didn’t take a few years. Within 18 months from her first scan, a team of physicians had reason to take action.
“Those people, that hospital,” Mary said. “They saved my life.”
Lung cancer screening
The low-dose CT lung screening that Mary had is the only way to screen for lung cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
Mary had never experienced any of the symptoms often associated with lung cancer. However, she met the criteria for the screening: a current smoker (also with a history of being a heavy smoker) over the age of 55.
If she had already begun experiencing symptoms, the chance greatly increased that the cancer had advanced to the point when traditional cancer treatments would need to be considered. Traditional cancer treatments can have debilitating side effects.
Catching lung cancer early gives the patient the best odds to treat it before more intensive treatments become necessary.
‘You’re going to get through this’
Following the advice of her doctor, Mary got the same screening every six months.
With two unchanged scans over the first year, she prepped for her third, 18 months after Dr. MacIntyre’s original recommendation. Feeling fine, she had no reason to think this third scan would go any different than the first two.
“I cried,” she said upon receiving the news that the ‘small dot’ had now developed into a cancerous nodule on her right lung. “I was shocked. I was not expecting bad news — I was expecting it to be like last time.”
Mary was referred to McLaren Macomb pulmonologist Dr. Bryan Barnosky, and he quickly reassured her.
“He said to me, ‘You’re going to get through this,’” Mary said.
Although her doctors caught the cancer early, they still moved quickly. Mary underwent a PET scan to determine if the cancer had spread and, if so, to where and to what extent. The results, too, would decide the course of Mary’s treatment.
But with the screening allowing for the earliest possible detection, the PET scan came back clear, and the cancer remained localized to a small portion of her right lung.
“The tests came back, and it was not in the lymph nodes,” Mary said. “It was nowhere to be found.”
And in terms of her treatment — because of the advantage of early detection — Mary avoided radiation and chemotherapy and was able to rid her body of its cancer with a surgical procedure.
Dr. Kristijan Minanov, a thoracic surgeon at McLaren Macomb, removed the cancerous portion of Mary’s lung, and he was there to check on her soon after.
“He visited me every single day I was there, and he has the best bedside manner,” she said.
As a follow-up, Mary continued getting those same lifesaving scans every three months for the next couple of years. She is cancer-free.
“I was spared the chemo and radiation. It took part of my lung, but I’ll take that over death,” Mary said. “That scan, that’s saving your life. If not for that scan, I probably would have died.”
Should you or a loved one consider a low-dose CT lung screening? Learn more at mclaren.org/macomblungscreen.
Listen to an interview with McLaren Macomb pulmonologist Dr. Victor Gordon about the benefits of a lung screening.