Catch It Early: November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

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Richard O’Neill is happy his doctor recommended he get his lungs screened for cancer.

O’Neill, 73, of Council Bluffs, said he’s thankful he caught his lung cancer early. The Council Bluffs man was a smoker for more than 50 years, and earlier this year decided to get tested for lung cancer.

A low-dose radiation CT scan found a nodule on O’Neill’s right lung and it was discovered to have grown slightly three months later.

Dr. Sumit Mukherjee with the Methodist Physicians Clinic at Jennie Edmundson Hospital explained that the scan — for individuals at risk of lung cancer ages 55 to 74 — has proven effective to catch cancer early. Those risk factors include smoking and exposure to cancer-causing toxins and chemicals.

“It works better than a chest X-ray in identifying details in the lung. The idea is to identify patients in an earlier stage, catch cancers in an earlier stage,” the doctor said.

Another scan found the cancer cells in O’Neill had spread to two spots, his saliva gland and chest. A pair of biopsies found the growth in his saliva gland was benign, but the chest was malignant.

After speaking with a surgeon, surgery to remove the cancer cells was ruled out because of O’Neill’s medical history.

O’Neill underwent stereotactic body radiation therapy, which shoots a high dose of radiation at a small, targeted area. The specialized treatment utilizes focused radiation beams for those lung cancer patients that are not great candidates for surgery, according to Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

Mukherjee noted that surgery to remove cancer is still “the gold center,” but for those that are unable, SBRT is just as effective.

O’Neill was diagnosed in the spring of 2018 and had his final treatment in late October. He’ll head back for a checkup later this month.

His advice to anyone with a history of smoking or exposure to chemicals and other hazardous materials?

The doctor noted deaths from lung cancer outpace breast, colon and prostate cancers — combined.

Mukherjee said 2011 brought about a shift in treatment and screenings. Jennie Ed starting doing low-dose CT scans in 2016, starting its lung mass check clinic in 2017

Anyone considering lung cancer screenings are encouraged to first check in with their primary care physician.

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