MultiCare lung cancer screening program helps high-risk patients beat the disease
When Mike Shinn, 71, reflects on his experiences in 2016, one of the first words that comes to his mind is "lucky."
Having smoked an average of two packs of cigarettes per day for 50 years, Shinn, from Puyallup, was at high risk for lung cancer. So, during his routine physical in January, Shinn's primary care doctor recommended that he take part in MultiCare's lung cancer screening program for high-risk patients.
At Shinn's first screening, doctors noticed a tiny spot on his lung. They referred him to Scott Meehan, MD, MultiCare Pulmonary Specialist, who looked closely at the CT scan. The spot was concerning enough that Dr. Meehan sent Shinn for a biopsy, which came back positive for lung cancer.
The good news was that the cancer was still in the earliest possible stage, 1A. As a result, surgeons were able to cleanly and successfully remove the cancerous spot, and Shinn has now fully recovered.
Regular lung cancer screening reduces cancer deaths
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death for both men and women, but the ability to cure it increases significantly if it's detected in earlier stages.
The low-dose CT scan that doctors used for Shinn allows for early lung cancer detection and is currently available at MultiCare. It's also covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, provided patients meet certain high-risk criteria. These include:
- Being 55 to 77 years of age
- Having at least a 30-pack-per-year smoking history
- Being a current smoker or a former smoker who has quit smoking less than 15 years prior
Before 2011, no lung cancer screening test was available that was safe or effective enough. Traditional CT scans delivered too much radiation to be used on a regular basis, and chest X-rays didn't provide enough detail. As a result, only a small percentage of lung cancers were found at early stages.
But in 2011, the newly developed low-dose CT scan was shown in a study by the National Cancer Institute to reduce cancer deaths by 20 percent in high-risk patients.
After reviewing this evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans for high-risk patients, and national groups such as the American Lung Association and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network have done the same.
"Now, using low-dose radiation, we're able to make a difference,” says Dr. Meehan. “It's been a huge shift."
Snuffing out cancer
After his surgery, Shinn experienced a relatively minor setback when his lung wouldn't seal up properly. But after being in the hospital for about a month, he was able to return home and continued to recover well without needing to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
"The doctors and nurses at MultiCare were really on top of things, and I felt like they cared,” Shinn says. “Everyone I was in contact with there was awesome. I thought it was a fantastic experience.”
Shinn says he stopped smoking for good the morning of the surgery, has been walking three times a week and is currently cancer free.
"Mike has really taken charge of his health and his chances for cure are great,” Dr. Meehan says. “That's the whole point of this lung cancer screening program: To catch it really early and cut it out, so that the person has been cured.
"But quitting smoking is always the best way to prevent lung cancer," he adds.
If you think you would be considered at high risk for lung cancer, talk to your primary care provider to find out if the lung cancer screening program at MultiCare is right for you.