Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States. The disease is expected to claim some 160,000 American lives this year.
But there are some doctors who are fighting back, doctors at Avera McKennan are now using a new screening process that is helping to catch the disease earlier and save lives.
Lynda Shriver has smoked for as long as she can remember. She knows her habit has put her at risk for lung cancer, which is one reason she's having a lung screening done.
"I've smoked too long and I'm still smoking and hopefully when I walk out of here I'll never smoke again." Said Shriver.
Avera McKennan started lung screenings in September as a way to catch the disease in it's early stages among the most at risk smokers and former smokers.
"If you're between 55 and 74, if you've smoked a pack a day for 30 years, and are still a smoker, or quit within the last 15 years this is who the study enrolled." Said Dr. Fady Jamous, a pulmonologist with Avera McKennan.
Lynda has tried to quit smoking before but couldn't, she now has extra motivation to kick the habit.
"The reason for that is I have a sister who passed away a month ago only she was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was Stage Four." Said Shriver.
Stage Four means the cancer has spread beyond the lungs. Lynda's sister Kathy was only 61 when her battle with lung cancer ended.
Jake: Was that an eye opening experience for you?
Lynda is hoping that if she too has lung cancer doctors catch it as early as possible.
"If we're able to find lung cancer early then the chance of cure is higher and thus is survival." Said Dr. Jamous.
"I'm not nervous about having the scan, I'm maybe a little nervous about the results." Said Shriver
The lung screening involves your typical everyday CT Scan Machine, only this one is adjusted to emit less radiation. All Lynda needs to do is lie still and follow the simple instructions. In a matter of minutes doctors have the highest quality images of Lynda's chest and lungs.
What makes this scan process so groundbreaking is early detection. Before, if doctors found lung cancer, half of the cases were already at Stage Four. Now by using CT Scans, 70% of the cancers found are at Stage One or Stage Two and are much more treatable.
"So out of a hundred patients who will have this CT Scan, 25 will have some sort of abnormality, but only one will have lung cancer." Said Dr. Jamous.
In the three months that Avera McKennan has been doing the scans they've done better than that average in identify early cancers. While lung cancer is not the most common form of cancer it certainly is the most deadly and this screening is great prevention.
"I don't know why people wouldn't take the opportunity to get a scan and find out if there is something they can do before it's too late." Said Shriver.
Lynda's lung scan came back normal, but she will still come back for annual follow ups, this year and next, to make sure things don't change. And with those results Lynda can now focus on maintaining her clean bill of health for herself and her family.
Jake: Do you think your sister would be proud of you for doing this?
Lynda: I know she would.
Here are the requirements for the lung screenings. You have to be between the ages of 55 and 74 and have a smoking history of 30 pack years meaning the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for 30 years. If you qualify and would like to schedule your own screening call 1-877-AT-AVERA.