Former smokers get newly funded scan for lung cancer and encourage others to do the same, after finding cancer in time

The number of smokers choosing to get low-dose CT scans to see if they have lung cancer is steadily increasing, especially since this screening was recently approved for payment by Medicare, Grace Schneider reports for The Courier-Journal.

Janet Overman and Roger Cross Sr., both 70 and heavy smokers since they were teens, decided to get this screening and both learned they had lung cancer, but with different outcomes.

Overman, a retired administrative assistant from Louisville, told Schneider that she had smoked two packs a day until a health scare in the late 1990s caused her to quit after 35 years of smoking. She said that she knew she was considered a high risk for lung cancer and this prompted her decision to get screened at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in November 2013.

Her original screening showed she had lung cancer, but a follow-up scan and biopsy showed no cancer. She has been placed on a monitoring program with no treatment necessary, Schneider reports. “I’m sure it was prayer,” Overman told Schneider.

Cross, a Bullitt County resident and owner of a small freight-delivery service, said he quit smoking 18 years ago and also credits his diagnosis to “divine intervention,” Schneider writes.

He told Schneider that while driving on Interstate 65, he spotted a billboard that urged people to get screened for lung cancer. “The Lord put that right on my windshield,” he said.

That happened a year ago, prompting Cross to pay $185 for his screening at Norton Healthcare, where he learned that he had Stage 3 lung cancer. He has since had surgery to remove a lung lobe, plus four rounds of chemotherapy, and is doing well, Schneider reports.

Both survivors spend their time encouraging other longtime smokers and ex-smokers to get screened “while there’s a chance to beat the disease,” Schneider writes.

Overman’s story is an example of why counseling is so important for people who get this lung cancer screening. CT scans are so much more sensitive than traditional chest X-rays, “detecting abnormalities the size of a grain of rice,” and can often turn up false positive results, which requires future scans and test, Schneider writes. These scans also reveal other health conditions such as emphysema, coronary-artery disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Kentucky leads the nation in lung cancer and deaths from lung cancer, with deaths from the disease nearly 50 percent higher than the national average, according to the Kentucky Cancer Consortium.

Medicare announced in February that it will pay for low-dose CT scans for people at high risk of getting lung cancer. This includes people from 55 to 77 who are either current smokers, have quit smoking within the last 15 years or who have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years, or the equivalent, two packs a day for 15.

This is welcomed news because early detection is the key to survival. People diagnosed early who have Stage 1 lung cancer have a 57 percent chance of surviving for five years, Schneider reports.

Schneider noted that last November, Kentucky received a $7 million grant to improve survival rates for lung cancer through a project called Kentucky LEADS (Lung Cancer, Education, Awareness, Detection, Survivorship) Collaborative, which will be led by the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the Lung Cancer Alliance.

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