Breathing easier because of lung cancer screening tool

Sue Hoffman has a lot going for her. She’s a friend, sister, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and a new home owner. Her summer plans included visits from grandkids, painting her bedroom and decorating the kitchen. Then life through her a curveball when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in June.

A nagging cough led her to seek treatment. A chest x-ray identified a small mass. Hoffman, a smoker with a family history of lung cancer, was understandably worried.

“I was pretty scatter brained for a while. I thought I was dying and was going to leave my daughter with a mess. I was frustrated and scared. But now I’m getting stronger,” she said.

Carle recently expanded offerings to include low-dose CT screenings (LDCT) at Danville on Fairchild for those at high-risk for developing lung cancer, like Hoffman. Her primary care physician referred her for the cancer screening.  The screening takes less than 10 seconds, provides a more detailed picture than an X-ray, uses less radiation and is painless.

Family support has been key in keeping Hoffman’s spirits up. Her daughter hasn’t missed an appointment, and her grandkids check in more frequently.

Her condition is improving. The tumor has not metastasized and is shrinking. She credits her care team.

“I’ve never had anything like this before. The doctors talk to each other and coordinate and share information so it’s easier for me,” Hoffman said.

Carle Cancer Center’s multi-specialty team includes experts from radiology, oncology, pulmonology and surgery to help streamline care for patients who require further testing or treatment.

The team uses many important tools including LDCT for people who are a high risk to develop lung cancer. High-risk patients are between the ages of 55-77 who smoke or quit in the last 15 years or those who smoked an average pack a day for 30 years. Some insurance plans cover the test, including Medicare and Medicaid. Check with your insurance provider to see if LDCT is covered.

Juan J. Jimenez, MD, Associate Medical Director of Radiology, said this screening is as important as a yearly mammogram.

“This isn’t one and done. It’s a shared decision between the patient and doctor to have continual monitoring,” he said.

Connie Shaw did that with her primary care physician Dr. Thomas Halloran. The Tilton wife was concerned she may be at risk having quit smoking in 2011 when her husband of 51 years, Bud, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had surgery to remove a portion of his lung and continues to fight.

Seeing her husband through his treatment motivated her. Although she wasn’t experiencing symptoms, the fear of not knowing lingered. Nervous because she suffers from claustrophobia, she said the process was quicker and easier than getting a mammogram.

“All I had to do was hold my breath for a few seconds. Then they helped me off the table, and I was back on my way,” Shaw said.

With results in just a few days, Shaw learned she was cancer-free. Her physician continues to monitor her emphysema and asthma.

Dr. Jimenez said expanding this service in Danville is important. “It’s a tool in our arsenal to help save lives, and we want patients to receive high-quality care close to home.”

“Carle has taken care of every one of my needs. I have no reason to travel anywhere else for care,” Hoffman said.