Eamon Mudd decided he'd had enough of addiction.
“I was having problems with alcohol," the now-66-year-old Cincinnati resident said. “I got rid of the alcohol, so my thought was since I got rid of the drinking, I should also get rid of the cigarettes. I didn't want to be addicted to anything anymore."
Eamon used the patch to quit smoking. While talking to a nurse with his insurance company, he learned he was eligible to take an at-home colon cancer test. And that preventive test led him to take another—a screening for lung cancer with The Christ Hospital Health Network.
After smoking for 50 years, “I figured it was time" to get screened," he said.
Because Eamon had a long history of smoking, he qualified for a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) lung screening. The test uses special X-ray technology and very little radiation to take detailed images of the lungs. The scan takes less than 20 seconds and isn't painful. It's also completely covered by insurance for people who qualify.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends annual LDCT screening for people who meet all of the following requirements:
- Are between the ages of 50 and 77
- Have no current symptoms of lung cancer
- Have a history of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years or more (a 20 pack-year)
- Current smokers or those who have quit smoking within the past 15 years
Even if someone quit smoking 10 years ago, they still qualify to receive five years of screenings until they reach the 15-year mark, said Ashley Campbell, CNP, Eamon's lung nurse practitioner . That's something many people don't realize. They also don't always know they can get the screening ordered through a primary care doctor.
In Eamon's case, the lung screening showed a suspicious-looking spot. After discussing his options with Campbell at the Lung Nodule Clinic, Eamon decided to move forward with a needle biopsy, which removes a sample of cells for testing. The biopsy found the spot was cancer—specifically, stage 1 lung cancer.
Campbell connected Eamon with Julian Guitron, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon specializing in lung cancer surgery.
“We caught Eamon's cancer exactly when we want to find these types of bad characters—very early on," Dr. Guitron said.
Because the cancer was small and superficial (meaning it hadn't spread), Dr. Guitron could remove the spot and surrounding tissue while preserving most of Eamon's lung.
“It was the ideal location—a very shallow cancer on the surface of the lung. We could do a very targeted robotic surgery, which is minimally invasive," he said.
Minimally invasive surgeries typically mean shorter hospital stays and a quicker patient recovery. That proved true for Eamon, who took a summertime hike in Colorado at 10,000 feet without a problem.
“Eamon's surgery was in March," Dr. Guitron said. “So, to be able to hike at that elevation only five months after surgery is really remarkable."
Cancer's silent killer
Eamon knows he was lucky. Usually, lung cancer shows no signs or symptoms before it spreads, so many people don't know anything's wrong.
“Lung cancer can be a little sneaky," Campbell said. “It kind of hangs out until it wants to show itself. It can be stage 4 before you have any symptoms."
Screening for lung cancer can catch the disease early when treatment tends to be most effective.
Still, the number of people who qualify for lung cancer screening and get screened is far below the number of people who choose to get other preventive screenings.
“When you compare it to mammograms and colonoscopies, for instance, up to 70% of eligible people are up to date on those screenings," Campbell said. “But when you look at people eligible for lung cancer screenings, only about 6% get them. Those numbers are outrageous. We want people to realize we have this available. It's quick and it's easy."
Today, Eamon is cancer-free, and he wants others to follow his example and not let fear stand in the way of saving their lives—or improving their quality of life.
“I feel more in control today," he said. “I breathe well. I always used to get tired and fall asleep during the day. I've also started cycling. It's something I probably wouldn't have wanted to do two years ago. Now I want to. I want to be more athletic now."
Dr. Guitron and Campbell hope Eamon's story will help raise awareness about the availability of lung cancer screenings and the importance of early detection. The message is especially relevant in Kentucky, which leads the nation in new lung cancer cases and deaths.
Ohio and Indiana don't fare much better. Both states rank above the national average for new lung cancer cases and deaths, according to the American Lung Association.
Dr. Guitron and Campbell also want people to know that smoking, while certainly the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer, isn't the only cause. In fact, 20% of people with lung cancer have never smoked, Dr. Guitron said.
Other common causes of the disease include exposure to radon gas, asbestos and secondhand smoke. So, although someone who's had significant exposure to these toxins, either in the workplace or at home, may not be eligible for screening, they should still be vigilant.
“We have all different tools to diagnose and treat spots on the lungs," Dr. Guitron said. “Some of them are cutting edge. And they're all available through our Lung Nodule Clinic."
Concerned about your lung cancer risk? Click or tap here to learn about lung cancer screening options.