Early detection program helps find cancer early
August 9, 2016
Eunice Wren never expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer, particularly when she felt healthy and well.
"I didn't have any symptoms. I was just going on my own merry way," Wren said.
But a simple screening test changed everything.
Thanks to the advice of her primary care doctor, Wren had taken advantage of an early-detection lung cancer screening at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital last year.
The low-dose CT scan is recommended for those who are seen as having high risk for lung cancer. According to the American Lung Association, the criteria for being at high risk includes being a current or former smoker between the age of 55-79, who smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years and who has smoked within the past 15 years.
The screening uses low-dose radiation to take pictures of areas inside the body to create a detailed picture, and can help identify nodules as small as 1 millimeter in size.
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Wren fit the criteria for being screened because of her age and former smoking habit, even though she had quit six years earlier.
Her scan showed a nodule in one of her lungs which, when biopsied, turned out to be malignant. She had surgery to remove it, without the need for other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Now cancer free for over a year, Wren undergoes regular scans to ensure that there is no change.
"Before you take the test, it can feel kind of scary thinking about what could happen. But the screening is a breeze. If I had to do it all over again, I would," Wren said.
Over the past two years that the hospital has been providing the screening, seven patients have had their lung cancer detected early, according to Linda Aeschliman, RN. Aeschliman is a Nurse Navigator at the Sierra Nevada Diagnostic Center.
Before the lung cancer screening became available, Aeschliman said that by the time lung cancer was detected in a patient, often it had moved to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.
"As with any cancer, early detection is crucial," said Wren's pulmonologist, Dr. John Lace, FCCP. "In recent years scientists have been able to demonstrate that low-dose CT screening can help lower the risk of dying from lung cancer."
That is good news for those at high risk, considering lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the United States and has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of all cancer types.
It should be noted that the screening is not appropriate for everyone. It's only recommended for those who show no symptoms and meet specific criteria, said Aeschliman.
"We've screened close to 300 people, and the prognosis for those who have been found to have the early stages of cancer has been good. Their oncologists continue to follow up with them to make sure nothing changes," Aeschliman continued.
She also shared that the screening is often covered by insurance, and that the procedure will soon also be covered by Medicare.
To determine if you are considered high risk and should ask your family doctor about getting a referral for the screening, visit LungCancerScreeningSavesLives.org.
For more information about the screening, call the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Cancer Center at 530-274-6600.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.