New screening guidelines mean early detection for Easley resident
Nancy Glidden is a self-proclaimed worrier. It's why she has seen Dr. Robert Person at Cannon Memorial Hospital for an annual physical for the last several years. It's why she gets a regular mammogram. It's why she quit smoking at the age of 50 after 25 years of indulging in the habit, and it's why she combines service and a smile at Waffle House with the occasional tip on good health. However, 13 years after giving up tobacco, Glidden wasn't worried about her lungs.
When Dr. Person told Glidden that she qualified for a low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening for lung cancer due to her age and medical history, even Glidden thought the screening was excessive. After all, there was no history of lung cancer in her family, and she had given up smoking for more than a decade. When Dr. Person referred Glidden to AnMed Health, she didn't think much would come of it.
"I'm a worrier, but even I wasn't too worried. I figured I would be at the hospital anyway so why not get this scan done?" Glidden said. "After the scan results came back, I wasn't just worried. I was telling myself that this was it and I was going to die."
Dr. Abhijit Raval, a physician with AnMed Health Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, identified a nodule — a spot on the lung — thanks to the CT scan, but it was located in a difficult area. An attempt to biopsy was unsuccessful, though her lymph nodes showed no signs of cancer. Dr. Raval then ordered a positron emission tomography scan to reveal more about the nodule. And when those results came back, he recommended surgical resection and proved early-stage cancer in the right lung.
Without the initial CT scan, Glidden's cancer would have gone undetected for months or years. According to Dr. Raval, the lung cancer five-year survival rate is less than 18 percent, which is a staggering number compared to the 99.6 percent survival rate in prostate cancer or the 90.5 percent survival rate in breast cancer. Only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage, and for tumors that have spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent. For a case like Nancy's, detecting cancer in early stages is life saving.
"The low-dose CT screening allowed us to flip her chances of survival," Dr. Raval said. "Nancy is a health-conscious person, so she understood the need to pursue this screening and all the testing that came with it."
In August 2011, the National Cancer Institute reported the results of an eight-year national lung screening trial. The trial proved that low-dose CT scans could reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent. Considering lung cancer is currently the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States, this 20 percent can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people every year.
Dr. Raval pushes CT screenings for lung cancer simply because of the importance of early detection. These screenings are slowly becoming a widely accepted tool in lung cancer diagnosis. However, Dr. Raval stresses that a health system must employ a "multimodal" approach in order to use this tool effectively in the way AnMed Health did for Glidden.
Dr. Raval is conducting a pilot study at AnMed Health on these screenings in an effort to hasten the time from diagnosis to procedure for every patient. The time from a screening to the necessary procedure takes less than a week at AnMed Health, but Dr. Raval wants that timeline to improve and become more consistent.
"It requires a team approach to comprehensive care, which is what went so well for Nancy," Dr. Raval said. "We have to be able to make a diagnosis, back it up and then do the right thing about it."
The right thing for Glidden was surgery on March 10 to remove the lower lobe of her right lung, which meant she did not have to undergo any radiation or chemotherapy. Dr. Person later told Glidden surgeons removed cancerous growth the size of a fingertip before it became the size of a golf ball, and it was all thanks to the low-dose CT.
Even with surgery and a 10-day hospital stay, Glidden said the entire experience was "a breeze." She said she "fell in love" with Dr. Raval and appreciated how forthcoming and honest all of her doctors were with her, especially in regards to what she was avoiding by undergoing surgery. Less than three weeks after being released from the hospital, Glidden was back to work at Waffle House, worrying a little less than she used to.
"Stress will kill you before anything else will," Glidden said. "Doctors can do so much these days, so I try to let them do everything they can so I worry less."
If you are:
- 55 to 74 years old
- AND have smoked:
• 1 pack a day for 30 years OR
• 2 packs a day for 15 years
- AND quit smoking less than 15 years ago or still smoking
then the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends lung cancer screening for you. Visit www.AnMedHealth.org/lungscreening
to learn more.