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A Lung Cancer Screening Saved Her Life

Cancer Care
Author name: Lee Health

Lung cancer screening graphic

Between February 2019 and March 2020, lung cancer diagnosis dropped by 23 percent in the U.S.

A drop in fewer lung cancer problems? That’s cause for a celebration.

But not so fast. Unfortunately, during that period fewer cases were reported because people were skipping their preventive health services, including yearly lung cancer screening, for fear of contracting COVID-19.

But whether we’re in a pandemic or not: Lung cancer screenings can save lives by catching cancer before it spreads. If you’ve put off your annual health screenings, now’s the time to resume them. And that also means getting in for a cancer screening scan.

A Personal Story

Ask Sherrie Stewart. When the Fort Myers resident went in for her annual check-up in September of last year, her health care provider suggested she also get screened for lung cancer.

“She suggested that I should have a lung cancer screening because I was an ex-smoker,” recalls the 69-year-old Ohio native. “I’d quit smoking eight years ago after smoking for almost 40 years.”

Sylvia Brown, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) with Lee Health, says patients like Sherrie who are at higher risk for lung cancer are eligible for the annual screening, which is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans with no cost sharing, if they meet the following conditions:

  • Are aged 55 to 77 years, and
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history, and
  • Have no sign of lung cancer, and
  • Able and willing to undergo treatment if lung cancer is discovered.

Screenings involve a low-dose computerized tomography (LDCT) scan of the lungs to look for lung cancer. The annual procedure (screening) is safe, non-invasive, painless, and only takes a few minutes. According to the American Lung Association, the scan emits about the same amount of radiation as what an average American gets in six months of natural background radiation by living on Earth.

Lung cancer screening finds 70 percent of lung cancer at an early stage when it is more curable, says Bobbi Marino, the APRN of the Regional Cancer Center, Lung Cancer Screening Program and Clinic.

“When lung cancer is detected early, there are more options for treatment with possible cure,” Marino says. “Symptoms don’t usually start until you have advanced disease. Treatment options are greatly limited if you have advanced disease.”

Sherrie’s screening results revealed an abnormality requiring further evaluation from a pulmonologist. The referral was made to pulmonology expert Dr. Shyam Kapadia, a pulmonologist with Lee Physician Group. Dr. Kapadia then referred Sherri for a consultation with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, who confirmed the cancer diagnosis.

“Everything happened so quickly, within weeks,” Sherrie recalls. “It wasn’t like I was waiting for a month to see anyone. I’m really thankful for that.”

The Team at Regional Cancer Center

Sherrie’s team of cancer care specialists at RCC established with her a comprehensive program that coordinated all aspects of her care, which included surgery and chemotherapy treatment with her oncologist, Dr. Lilliana Bustamante with Florida Cancer Specialists.

“Bobbi was terrific because she explained everything that was going to happen,” Sherrie says. “Everybody was so caring. It was the best medical care I’ve ever had.”

Sherrie underwent a lobectomy at HealthPark Medical Center. She also had 27 lymph suspicious nodes removed. She had her procedure on a Thursday and was discharged home that following Sunday.

The surgery went so well that Sherrie, an avid bike rider, was out tooling around her neighborhood 13 days after it. But when she began chemotherapy treatments that December, she temporarily put bike riding jaunts on hold and instead began daily walks when she felt up to it. Sherrie finished her chemotherapy sessions in late February 2021.

Today, after her most recent check-up, Sherrie remains cancer free. She’s back to biking an average of six miles on her jaunts.

“I am so grateful to everyone for sending me in the right direction with the right doctors,” Sherrie says. “I want people to know not to be scared about getting a lung cancer screening if you’re eligible to get one. I feel strongly that it saved my life. If I would have waited another five or six years, possibly it would have been too late. That’s the thing, you can be without symptoms but have it, as I did.”

Lung cancer causes three times as many deaths as breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined, Marino notes.

“If we identify something early, we can treat it and create another cancer survivor,” she says. “Patients typically don’t go to the doctor unless they have a symptom. The program can catch lung cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Fifteen percent of Lee County’s population smoke every day, which puts them at high risk for developing lung cancer.”

Things to know

Before your first screening, you’ll need to schedule a lung cancer screening counseling and shared decision-making visit with your doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening. You and your doctor can decide whether lung cancer screening is right for you.

Lee Health has taken all safety precautions to protect patients and visitors in the hospital from COVID-19, Marino adds. “Don’t put off your healthcare because of fear. It really could mean the difference between life and death.”

Lee Health offers low-dose lung cancer screenings at these convenient locations:

  • Outpatient Center at the Sanctuary
  • Outpatient Center at HealthPark Commons
  • Outpatient Center at Surfside
  • Outpatient Radiology at Riverwalk
  • Outpatient Surgery Center - Coconut Point
  • Florida Radiology Outpatient Imaging- South Pointe

Speak to your provider for more information on the Lung Cancer Screening Program or call 239-343-LUNG (5864)

Learn more about the lung cancer screenings offered by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services here.