Anyone who is tempted to skip a routine medical exam because it seems unnecessary should ignore that temptation, advises Don Holt, whose routine check-up may have saved his life.
Holt, a resident of Mennonite Village in Albany, said he had no symptoms after recovering from a bout of pneumonia but went in for a scheduled check-up anyway with his primary care physician, Lynn Bentson, MD. Bentson ordered a routine x-ray to see if any signs of pneumonia remained in his lungs. She discovered a suspicious spot on his right lung that necessitated further testing.
Holt was referred to George Giacoppe, MD, an Albany pulmonologist with Samaritan Health Services, who immediately ordered a computed tomography (CT) scan. The test showed the spot on Holt’s lung was actually a tumor inside a bronchial tube. A biopsy of the tumor determined that, although it was small at just 1.7 centimeters, it was cancerous.
“All of a sudden, life and the world took on a whole new meaning,” said Holt. “Even though the tumor was small and my doctors reassured me, it’s one of those things you hear so often, and it’s the condition that I most dreaded.”
Holt may not have realized it, but he walked in a path that is only recently available: early lung cancer screening.
For decades, lung cancer has mostly been discovered in its later stages, making it the number one cancer killer in the United States. Recent research shows that a new system of screening can catch lung cancer early, significantly increasing the ability to treat it — and adding years onto peoples’ lives.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time — too long — for an acceptable method to screen for lung cancer before symptoms appear,” said George Giacoppe, MD, a pulmonologist at Samaritan Albany Pulmonology. “Research shows that if we can find lung cancer in stage I, the cure rate is 80 to 90 percent.”
Giacoppe is using low dose CT scans, followed by monitoring and rescreening, to find and treat lung cancer in patients who are at risk for the disease. The screening is appropriate for people ages 55 to 75 who have smoked for a significant number of years. It costs $350 and is typically not reimbursed by insurance carriers. Eligible patients must meet certain criteria and agree to clinical study requirements.
After surgery to remove the middle lobe of Holt’s right lung, Holt did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Oncologist Wei Bai, MD, of the Samaritan Cancer Program said Holt’s tumor was the earliest she had ever seen caught and removed so quickly.
“This is exactly the outcome we hope to have in offering this new screening,” said Giacoppe.
For Holt, the entire process — from diagnosis to recovery — was completed in two months, and he lost less than three percent of his lung capacity.
“I’d hoped to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow into adulthood and have their own families,” Holt said, “and because of the miracle of this early detection, I received a new gift of life and this now seems possible.” He and his wife, Ruth, have a daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren living in Albany.
Holt urges everyone with any type of lung condition or risk factor not to miss a routine check-up because, “the earlier the detection of any kind of problem, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “I’m a very lucky man.”
Lung cancer screening is performed at Samaritan Albany Pulmonology, as part of the Samaritan Lung Cancer Program. For more information, call (541) 812-5877.