Seeing Cancer Sooner with CT Lung Scans


Kathleen Fischer: I started smoking when I was 14-years old.

X-ray technician: Alright, roll your shoulders forward and your arms out.

Kathleen Fischer: Smoked for 30 years.

Kathleen Fischer: Alright, breathe in. Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Alright, you can relax and let it out now.

Kathleen Fischer: Watched my father-in-law die from emphysema, so that was the deciding factor for me. I had to do something about it then.

Dennis Douda: What Kathleen Fischer did was quit smoking. That was 15-years ago. But this summer she learned that her smoking past hadn't exactly faded into history.

Stephen Cassivi, M.D. — Mayo Clinic Thoracic Surgeon: This area of the lung was where the tumor is and we removed the lung which would have been in this area here.

Dennis Douda: She was diagnosed with lung cancer. In spite of that, Mayo Clinic surgeon Dr. Stephen Cassivi says Kathleen is extremely lucky. It was detected so early, as a stage-1 tumor, that minimally invasive surgery seems to have delivered a cure with no need for additional treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.

Stephen Cassivi, M.D.: Her case is very illustrative of the opportunities that can be found in lung cancer screening.

Dennis Douda: Multiple studies, including the National Lung Screening Trial which Mayo Clinic participated in, showed that looking inside the body with CT Scans can reduce lung cancer deaths by 20% in high risk groups of people.

Stephen Cassivi, M.D.: Using the low-dose CT screening program system, we need to treat about 300 or so patients to save a life.

Dennis Douda: With 87% of lung cancers attributed to smoking, heavy smokers — those who've smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30-years or more — are at the highest risk. Adding to the problem, lung cancer often presents no symptoms until it's very advanced.

Kathleen Fischer: I think you always assume that because you feel good, you're okay.

Dennis Douda: Kathleen's husband Gary was also a heavy smoker, so together they volunteered for a medical study in her home state at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The COPD-Gene study's goal is to identify genetic links that predispose people to develop lung diseases, such as emphysema. It uses low-dose CT scans to reveal changes in lung capacity, as well as muscle and bone structure.

Alejandro Comellas, M.D. — University of Iowa Hospitals: So the CAT Scan is providing us a very rich data base to really correlate the genes and these characteristics.

Dennis Douda: Pulmonologist and researcher Dr. Alejandro Comellas says the scans also tipped Kathleen off to the tiny cancerous tumor growing in her lung.

Kathleen Fischer: We did one scan a year and the third year it looked a little suspicious.

Stephen Cassivi, M.D.: We know with lung cancer, as with many other cancers but specifically with lung cancer, that your survival from treatment of it is directly related to the stage at which it is first found.

Kathleen Fischer: I mean, I think I'm living proof.

Dec. 19, 2014