Ten-Second Test Leads to Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Ronnie Link gets a hug from NorthBay Cancer Center nurse navigator Keni Horiuchi, R.N.

Left: Ronnie Link gets a hug from NorthBay Cancer Center nurse navigator Keni Horiuchi, R.N.

When Vacaville Realtor Veronica “Ronnie” Link received a flier in the mail offering a low-cost lung cancer screening, she didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. Although she no longer smoked, she looked forward to the test’s assurance that she was as healthy as she felt.

She never expected a cancer diagnosis. But thanks to her chance encounter with a screening offer, the NorthBay Cancer Center found her lung cancer at an early stage and referred her for treatment. She considers herself cured.

Lung cancer is one of the greatest challenges the cancer community faces today, mainly because early screening has been limited. Lung cancer usually is not diagnosed until a patient has symptoms, and by then the survival rate is very low. Smoking cessation is the most important thing you can do to decrease the risk of lung cancer. But for those who have quit after smoking for many years, the risk is still significant. Ronnie, 64, had smoked for 40 years, although less than a pack a day. When she finally quit some years ago, she thought she had avoided the pitfalls of long-term tobacco use. “When I was growing up, everyone smoked,” Ronnie says. “Smoking meant you were an adult. It wasn’t until my grandchildren started asking about my smoking that I realized I needed to quit.”

Lung cancer usually is not diagnosed until a patient has symptoms, and by then the survival rate is very low.

With the help of a nicotine patch, she kicked the addiction in three months.

Last June, NorthBay Medical Center and the NorthBay Cancer Center began offering low-dose CT lung scans to former smokers who are patients of the Center for Primary Care and who meet the criteria of being at high risk for lung cancer. Ronnie was one of the first patients to participate in the screening.

When her initial scan revealed a shadow, she was referred to pulmonologist Dr. Maqbool Ahmed. He thought she might have a lung infection so he ordered a course of antibiotics. Five weeks later, a second scan showed the shadow remained. He explained her options, which included a biopsy, a PET Scan, and surgery.

She underwent a PET scan at NorthBay Medical Center and received the unwelcome diagnosis of lung cancer. Two days later she met with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Samer Kanaan, a specialist in thoracic oncology. He performed a video-assisted RUL lobectomy to remove the entire upper right lobe of her lung. Dr. Kanaan is the only surgeon in Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties trained in this minimally invasive surgery.

Ronnie reviews her lung x-rays with cardiothoracic surgeon Samer Kanaan, M.D.

“Fortunately, Ronnie’s cancer was caught at Stage 1— making it very curable,” says Dr. Kanaan. “I’m convinced that this type of lung cancer screening saves lives.”

More patients die every year of lung cancer than of breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, according to Dr. Kanaan. That’s because lung cancer does not have the screening protocols of
the other three types of cancer.

Ronnie was playing golf just a month after her surgery. Her follow-up care includes a CT lung scan every six months. She’s so grateful for the early screening test that she wants to make it available to others who might not be able to afford it.

“I’ve created a local foundation to help low-income Solano County residents have access to early lung cancer screening,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to miss a lifesaving test because of finances.”

For more information about Ronnie’s foundation, call her at (707) 447-7011.

Scanning for an Early Cure

Recent studies have shown conclusively that detecting lung cancers at a very early stage, before they cause any symptoms, can result in a surprisingly high rate of survival. The best way to detect these cancers early is to screen those who are at risk with computerized tomography, or CT scans. A lung scan is completed in the time it takes to hold one breath, less than 10 seconds. The scan uses a low dose of radiation and no IV contrast material is required. The American Cancer Society has just endorsed this screening test.

NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay Cancer Center are sponsoring a low-cost lung cancer screening CT for patients of the NorthBay Center for Primary Care who meet the “high-risk” criteria defined in a national screening protocol.

This includes being an ex-smoker between the ages
of 55 to 74 and having a 30-pack-a-year history. The cost is $265 and includes the CT scan and a review of the scan by a physician. The results are also reviewed by the multi-disciplinary lung tumor board at the cancer center.

For further information, please call (707) 646-4008.

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