Cynthia Campbell, of Mayfield, accompanied her husband to a pulmonologist appointment a few months ago. While there, she caught a glimpse of a sign detailing eligibility requirements for low dose CT scans, a screening test for lung cancer. Seeing that she met the eligibility requirements, Campbell soon set up a screening appointment for her peace-of-mind.
That June appointment may have saved her life.
“I could not imagine what my life would be like if I did not have this [screening] done,” Campbell said.
Campbell said she was not feeling any symptoms of lung cancer, and had thought nothing would show up on her lung cancer screening. Nonetheless, she set up the appointment to be on the safe side, especially since she has a family history of lung cancer. The low dose CT scan was a quick and painless procedure, Campbell attested.
To her shock, the scan revealed a suspicious mass on her left lung.
Campbell was quickly connected with doctors and medical staff at Baptist Health Paducah and other offices, including Baptist Health Paducah cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Austin Ward. Through tests and biopsies, Campbell said doctors determined her cancer was a Stage 1 adenocarcinoma, meaning that it was confined to her lung and had not spread throughout her body.
In a matter of weeks, Campbell said Ward had her scheduled for surgery in August to remove the tumor and the upper left lobe of her lungs. However, Campbell said while in surgery, Ward also removed lymph nodes that a pathology report later revealed contained cancer cells, meaning her lung cancer was starting to spread and was in Stage 2B just weeks after she received the Stage 1 diagnosis.
Campbell is now working with an oncologist at Baptist Health Paducah and will soon begin a three-month chemotherapy treatment to treat the remaining cancer and to hopefully make sure the cancer does not spread.
Because doctors and medical staff were able to identify Campbell’s cancer early, Ward said Campbell, and other patients diagnosed with lung cancer at early stages, has a much better chance of successfully treating the disease and has a lower mortality rate compared to those diagnosed with lung cancer in later stages.
“Lung cancer screenings made a huge difference in lung cancer outcomes and we’ve actually decreased the mortality of the disease recently. And that’s mainly because we find it at an earlier stage, like Ms. Campbell’s,” Ward said.
“When we can find it at an earlier stage, people can survive it, and they have great outcomes.”
Historically, many lung cancer patients did not know they had the disease until they started developing symptoms, which is usually in later stages of the disease once it has spread throughout the body. By that point in the disease, Ward said effective treatment options are limited.
In recent years, low dose CT scans have been developed as a way to try and identify lung cancer in earlier stages in patients that meet certain criteria. Identifying lung cancer in early stages statistically gives better odds of survival to patients compared to finding lung cancer in later stages. A National Lung Screening Trial study of 53,000 heavy smokers found that patients who got a CT scan every year for three had a 20% reduction in risk of dying from lung cancer.
With how fast her cancer began to spread between her screening and her surgery, Campbell said she could not imagine what her outcome may have been had not seen the lung cancer screening eligibility sign or if she held off on scheduling a screening appointment.
Last year, the United States Preventative Service Task Force (USPSTF) updated its eligibility requirements for patients to qualify for a low dose CT scan, which expanded the eligible population for the lung cancer screening.
Adults between the ages of 50 and 80 years old (or 50 to 77 years old for patients with Medicare) who have a 20 pack-year smoking history (the average number of cigarette packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoking) and either currently smoke or have quit in the last 15 years are eligible for this lung cancer screening.
Kentucky has the highest lung cancer incidence rate in the nation and the second-highest smoking rate, according to the American Lung Association.
Baptist Health Paducah staff are also hoping with more people eligible for the low dose CT screening to see more people get screened. Nationally, according to the American Lung Association, only 6% of eligible patients (under the USPSTF’s previous eligibility guidelines prior to the 2021 eligibility expansion) took advantage of low dose CT screenings. Kentucky, however, had the nation’s fourth-highest screening rate with 13% of eligible patients getting screened for lung cancer.
Baptist Health Paducah plans to keep posters and signs with the updated lung cancer screening eligibility requirements on its campus and in offices so that patients like Campbell can see if they are eligible and perhaps be motivated to get screened.
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