Lung cancer screening can detect the disease at a very early stage – which can mean a cure for people like Debbie Skaggs.
Skaggs, who was a smoker for many years, was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) by her hometown doctor in July 2017. But she didn’t believe she had COPD, so she went to Dr. William Cundiff, a pulmonary specialist at Baptist Health Hardin in Elizabethtown. Cundiff recommended a low-dose CT scan of Skaggs’ lungs – a way to detect early-stage lung cancer in people around Skaggs’ age who also have a history of smoking.
Skaggs received her lung cancer diagnosis on Nov. 29, 2017. “[After the scan], Dr. Cundiff brought us in – my sister, my husband, my daughter and my son went in there with me that day,” she said. “That’s when he informed me I had lung cancer and that he was going to go ahead and direct me to a surgeon.”
Dr. Jordan Miller, a thoracic surgeon at at the UK Markey Cancer Center, performed the minimally invasive surgery to remove the cancer 12 days later. Baptist Health Hardin is a member of the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, a group of community hospitals that collaborates with Markey to give patients access to the latest treatments while reducing travel outside of the area. When patients like Skaggs need care that isn’t available locally, they can go to Markey for specialized care. Markey doctors work with community doctors to ensure seamless coordination of care.
“I had no symptoms. They said, if my cancer hadn’t been found, in four or five years, it could’ve gotten a hold of me. I could be walking around right now with cancer and not know it. Whether you’re a smoker, a past smoker or a present smoker, get the screening done.”
Since Skaggs’ cancer was caught early, she didn’t need chemotherapy or other treatment after her surgery. She went home after five days and was able to celebrate the holidays with her family.
For people like Skaggs, lung cancer screening greatly improves the likelihood of survival. There are many more treatment options when the cancer is found early, and screening can:
- Decrease the risk of lung cancer death in patients who are high-risk for developing the disease
- Detect cancer before symptoms appear
- Find early-stage cancer in a localized area of the lungs
The UK Lung Cancer Screening Program offers low-dose CT screenings for current and former smokers with certain risk factors for lung cancer:
- Ages 55-80
- Current smoker or quit within last 15 years
- Smoke one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years
- No current lung cancer symptoms
The screening program team works closely with referring physicians to provide follow-up testing and care if it’s needed.
Skaggs believes getting a second opinion and a lung cancer screening may have saved her life. “I had no symptoms,” she said. “They said, if my cancer hadn’t been found, in four or five years, it could’ve gotten ahold of me. I could be walking around right now with cancer and not know it. I’m just so thankful that it was found. Whether you’re a smoker, a past smoker or a present smoker, get the screening done.”