Annual Lung Cancer Screenings Save Lives

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Seventy-one-year-old Glenna Courtney is the proud mother of three, with seven beloved grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Recently widowed, Glenna spends her days enjoying her family, daily walks and household activities. Her recent brush with lung cancer has left her committed to living a healthy lifestyle – and spreading the word about the importance of lung cancer screenings.

When Glenna’s primary care physician suggested a low-dose CT lung cancer screening in 2019 as part of her annual checkup, Glenna was a little wary. But as a smoker for 40 years, she realized the importance of screening.

“It’s so easy to get a lung cancer screening scan,” says Glenna. “The hardest part is getting ready and getting there! You just lay there and let the machine do its job.” The scan itself only takes about five minutes.

Glenna and her family were thrilled when her scan results came back negative – and surprised when the following year, her primary care physician recommended a follow-up lung cancer screening.   

“Lung cancer is a very aggressive and fast-moving cancer that can move to advanced stages in short intervals,” says Michael R. Gieske, MD, Director of Lung Cancer Screening at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “National guidelines recommend repeat screenings every year until a patient turns 80 or is 15 years post quit date.”

Yearly Lung Cancer Screening is Key

Patients are relieved when the initial lung cancer screening comes back negative. Most assume they’ll never need testing again. However, this “one-and-done” philosophy is detrimental. For current and former smokers, annual lung cancer screenings need to be a part of a yearly medical routine.

In August 2020, Glenna’s repeat scan showed a concerning nodule. Doctors monitored her for three months. During that time, Glenna’s husband was sick and in November, he passed away. Shortly after his funeral, Glenna told her children that another lung cancer screening was necessary. Her follow up scan showed the nodule had grown to the size of a large pea.

Glenna met with Dr. Royce Calhoun, Thoracic Surgeon at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Together they talked about her options. Glenna’s nodule was too small to biopsy, so Dr. Calhoun recommended removing the nodule by Video-Assisted Thorascopic Surgery (VATS) wedge resection.

“You have to be smoke-free for 14 days before the surgery, and that was tough for me,” says Glenna. “I told Dr. Calhoun that I enjoyed smoking. He said he understood – but I had to quit right then and there.”

Early Detection Improves Outcomes

Glenna underwent surgery in February 2021 at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Dr. Calhoun removed the nodule, a section of her lung about the size of a walnut and lymph nodes to determine if the cancer had spread. The nodule was biopsied and diagnosed as stage 1A non-small cell carcinoma, a moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the right upper lobe.

Following surgery and lab results, Glenna and her family received the best possible news from Dr. Calhoun: she was cancer-free. She will continue to have contrast CT scans every six months for two years and then moves back to a regular annual screening schedule.

“Everyone at St. Elizabeth was fabulous and they took great care of me,” says Glenna. “You can tell they work as a team and know their stuff. I felt like I was in such great hands.”

Lung cancer is frequently found too late. When patients exhibit symptoms or the tumor is discovered accidentally, 70% of those lung cancer cases are late stage III or stage IV with a significantly smaller chance of a cure.

“The real challenge is to catch it early,” says Dr. Gieske. “Glenna’s early-stage lung cancer gives her a greater than 90% chance of a five-year survival, versus stage IV lung cancer having a 4% survival rate. Early detection is key.”

St. Elizabeth Lung Cancer Screening

The St. Elizabeth Lung Cancer Screening Program finds one lung cancer for every 60 screenings performed and is on track to complete 20,000 screenings since the program began in 2013 – which equates to 333 lung cancers discovered.

To date, the program has found 56% of stage I lung cancer and 67.4% of early stages I and II lung cancer, which have the most favorable outcomes. St. Elizabeth also has the distinction of ranking in the top four percent of healthcare systems in the country of lung cancer screening programs, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR).

“We are having a tremendous impact on the health of our state, as lung cancer is the number one cancer-killer in our state, our country and the world,” says Dr. Gieske. “Lung cancer kills more of our friends, family and co-workers than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.”

Criteria for the Lung Cancer Screening Program includes patients:

  • Older than age 55
  • Who have a 30-pack year history (1 pack per day for 30+ years)
  • Current smokers
  • Former smokers who quit within the last 15 years

The screening is available at one of our six ACR-accredited locations – Ft. Thomas, Edgewood, Covington, Florence, Hebron and Grant County. To learn more about the St. Elizabeth Lung Cancer Screening Program, take our quick quiz or schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss screening options. Make sure to make a habit of annual screenings if you are a longtime smoker.

St. Elizabeth is committed to educating the community on the benefits of the low-dose CT lung cancer screening – and it’s making a difference.

“We are saving lives and giving patients like Glenna and their families many more quality years to spend together,” says Dr. Gieske.

Want to quit smoking? We’re here to help.

If you need support to help you quit smoking, our Freshstart Tobacco Cessation program can help. This free four-week course is developed by the American Cancer Society and facilitated by St. Elizabeth – and designed to help you quit smoking once and for all. For more information or to register for the next session, please call (859) 301-5570. We’re here to help you take that first step to a fresh start.https://www.stelizabeth.com/care/nky-lung-cancer/


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