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Early Screening Success: Lung Cancer Patient Shares Her Journey

Can a $35 lung screening save your life? Arlene says “yes.” She credits the Baptist Health Lung Screening Program [1] and her diligent doctors for detecting and treating her lung cancer early, when survival rates are higher.

Lung cancer is hard to detect. The malignancy on the ex-smoker’s left lung was not evident on the chest X-ray she had six months earlier to assess her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “When lung cancer does show up on a chest X-ray, it’s usually too late,” said Arlene, age 73. “My doctors took a chance on me, and gave me the opportunity to beat this. By sharing my story, I’m hoping I can inspire others to get a lung screening.”

Screening Led to Early Detection and Successful Treatment

When Arlene complained of chronic late-day aches in her thighs and low-grade fever, Mary Ann Cross, M.D. [2], a Baptist Health Primary Care [3] physician, conducted several tests and urged her to schedule a low-dose CT scan of her chest. “Dr. Cross told me that my body was trying to tell me something,” Arlene recalled. “It’s important to listen to your body and be your own advocate.”

Arlene continued advocating for herself, sharing her exercise regimen with Baptist Health pulmonologist, Jeremy Tabak, M.D. [4], to prove that she was strong enough to undergo surgery to remove the tumor. “Despite having COPD, I was active every day,” Arlene said. “I walked on the treadmill, lifted weights, swam laps in my pool and took care of my large home.”

Dr. Tabak started Arlene on a bronchodilator regimen to optimize her lung function prior to surgery, and initiated respiratory treatments following the surgery to help with recovery. Mark Dylewski, M.D. [5], a thoracic surgical oncologist with Miami Cancer Institute [6] and chief of general thoracic robotic surgery for Baptist Health’s Center for Robotic Surgery [7], performed a lung lobectomy using the minimally invasive surgical method he created to perform safer lobectomies.

Referred to as the “Dylewski technique,” the procedure uses advanced robotic techniques to remove the lung without cutting or spreading the ribs. He also performed lung volume reduction surgery to remove an area of damaged lung, allowing Arlene’s remaining lung tissue to expand when she breathes in.

“Less trauma means a quicker recovery for the patient and fewer complications following surgery,” Dr. Dylewski said. “The training, experience, techniques and technology we have at Miami Cancer Institute allow us to successfully treat high-risk patients, like Arlene.”

Arlene reveals she had two tiny incisions and no pain following her surgery. She also admits that she has worked hard and maintained a positive attitude to achieve the best results. “Dr. Dylewski and Dr. Tabak told me that I needed to push myself and get moving after surgery,” Arlene explained. “I started exercising again – slowly at first. But now I’m back to swimming 100 laps, exercising at the gym, gardening and painting my house. I just go at my own pace and take a moment to catch my breath.”

Arlene also follows her doctors’ orders to have an annual CT scan of her chest. Her next scan is scheduled for February – her two-year mark of being cancer-free.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Currently, only 15 percent of lung cancers are detected early. But that number can improve if more people with a smoking history follow Arlene’s advice and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [8] guidelines, which recommend annual lung screenings for people at high risk.

“Most lung cancer patients who are cured of their disease are those found to have early-stage lung tumors,” Dr. Dylewski said. “We know who is at risk for developing lung cancer, so now we must encourage these high-risk patients to get screened.”

Talk to your doctor to determine if you should be screened with a low-dose CT scan [1].