• How Lung Cancer Screening Saved Joanne


    June 10, 2019

    “I really feel like she saved my life,” says Joanne Tibbatts of physician assistant Nicole Dunn.

    Last fall, Tibbatts saw Dunn for bronchitis—not suspecting she might have cancer. Tibbatts quit smoking in 2012, but with a decades long history of smoking, she was still at high risk for lung cancer. Dunn sent Tibbatts for a low-dose computed tomography (CT) lung cancer screening.

    Unfortunately, the results showed Tibbatts had lung cancer. However, because Tibbatts’ cancer was diagnosed at an early stage—stage I squamous cell lung cancer—her chances of survival were very good.

    Low-Dose CT Can Catch Lung Cancer Early

    If you are at high risk for lung cancer due to a history of smoking, Bassett Healthcare Network’s lowdose computed tomography (CT) screening program might be for you. It could save your life, like it did for Joanne Tibbatts.

    “Typically, most lung cancer patients are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, but this simple, painless 15-second CT scan allows us to diagnose and then treat lung cancer at earlier stages, when there is more likelihood of successful treatment,” says Denise Sommers, nurse practitioner for the screening program.

    Your health care provider can refer you if you are between the ages of 55 and 70 and you are a smoker or ex-smoker who has quit in the last 15 years and has a 30-pack-year history. (A pack year means that someone has smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for a year.) Initial lung cancer screening is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.

    Early Detection Leads to Better Odds

    “Without the screening, I wouldn’t have known at all. I would have thought it was maybe my COPD getting worse,” says Tibbatts. “And it’s so painless; it’s really nothing. There’s no reason not to be screened. And if you do have cancer, grab it early and you’ll survive.”

    Tibbatts was not an appropriate candidate for chemotherapy or surgery, as she was on blood thinners, but she is doing very well after five high-dose stereotactic radiation treatments. This treatment aims radiation only at the affected area and is a noninvasive way to cure small lung tumors.

    “I was a little queasy and weak after the treatments, but other than that I was fine,” Tibbatts says.

    Tibbatts has periodic CT scanning to make sure no additional cancerous cells are developing.

    “My husband and I are so grateful for the care we get at Bassett,” she says. “I can’t say enough about the care, and the doctors are wonderful. I have confidence in them.

    “I’m thankful, I really am. I tell my kids and grandkids, ‘please don’t smoke.’ My granddaughter, who is 14, says she is not going to even try it, which I am quite happy about.”

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