Lung Cancer Screening Provides Early Detection
Patient: “Genesis saved my life.”
Michele Benson will never throw away the Genesis postcard that came in the mail this summer about a free low-dose CT lung cancer screening.
It led her to get a CT scan that found her lung cancer at a very early stage. After lung surgery, she is cancer-free, and the Genesis postcard will forever be a family keepsake.
“I thank God every day for Genesis,” says Benson, 56, of Carbon Cliff, Ill., a former smoker of 36 years. “I just know if it hadn’t been for that CT scan, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed with lung cancer until it was too late to save my life.
“Instead, my cancer was detected early; I had surgery to remove it; and, I didn’t even have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy.”
Meeting a community health need
Benson’s free low-dose CT scan was a gift from Genesis Philanthropy, a new foundation focused on population health initiatives that seeks to fill unmet community health needs across the Quad Cities region. The first gift to Genesis Philanthropy was $1 million from the Gene and JoAnn Waddell Regional Fund for Hospice and Cancer Care.
A portion of this significant gift has been earmarked for cancer screenings, and the first initiative targeted lung cancer.
“So far seven individuals have been diagnosed with lung cancer, primarily early-stage lung cancer, thanks to this initiative,” says Missy Gowey, Executive Director of the Genesis Health Services Foundation. “While our hearts go out to those individuals who have been diagnosed, we are thrilled as a staff and board that this effort has allowed their lung cancer to be detected at an earlier stage and potentially saved their lives.”
Benson, who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), admits she came close to ignoring the postcard and her opportunity for the free CT scan. If it hadn’t been for the persistent urging of her husband, Denny, she might have thrown it in the trash.
Denny Benson noticed his wife had been coughing more. He worried for her health.
“I told him, ‘It’s summertime. I have COPD. I always cough more when it’s hot outside,” she recalls. “Then I thought ‘Why not? The CT scan costs nothing. I’ll have the scan to pacify him.’ ”
She has lost numerous family members to cancer. Her mother died of lung cancer, and Michele Benson promised her before her death that she would quit smoking. She has been a non-smoker for three years now.
Her aunt died of lung cancer. A cousin had his left lung and part of his right lung removed because of lung cancer. “Nine of the 13 kids on her mother’s side of the family have died from some kind of cancer,” she says. “My first husband died of cancer.”
“If I can save one person’s life by telling my story, it’s worth it. “I thank God, and I thank Genesis that I am cancer-free today.”
She had the free low-dose CT scan, which detected possible lung cancer. A PET scan confirmed the lung cancer diagnosis. Lung surgery to remove the cancer was performed last August by Dr. George Kontos at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis, where she also underwent cardiopulmonary rehabilitation.
Since then, she has lost 38 pounds, which has improved her breathing, and she is increasing her stamina by working out regularly at home on exercise equipment purchased by her son.
“I feel very lucky and look at life in an entirely different way,” she says. “If I wake up and the sun’s not shining, I think ‘At least I’m waking up.’”
Ignored symptoms, denial
Wendy Ballou, RN, BS, OCN, CCM, a nurse navigator at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute, has worked with many lung cancer patients over the years. All too often, patients do not discover their lung cancer until it is in advanced stages.
“Low-dose CT scans provide more diagnostic information than chest x-rays, and they are not covered by insurance at this time, which makes this initiative all the more important,” she says. “Radiation exposure from a low-dose CT scan is not much more than a mammogram.”
Ballou adds, “Most lung cancer patients are smokers, so they may already have a cough and shortness of breath. They may attribute these symptoms to their smoking history instead of lung cancer. Most smokers also know they are at risk, and often, a fear of finding out they have lung cancer will deter them from getting screened.”
Through the program, there have been about 325 lung cancer screenings, and Genesis Philanthropy has pledged to fund a total of 1,000, Gowey says. Program participants must have a physician’s order for a low-dose CT scan, which gives them the opportunity to talk about the risks and benefits with the doctor who knows them best. Screenings can be done at any Genesis imaging center.
“For that one person who is diagnosed with lung cancer due to this program, we have made a life-saving difference,” Gowey says.