How Early Lung Cancer Screening Saved One Man’s Life

By Drew Munhausen

Larry McDonald started smoking when he was in high school.

“It just started on a whim,” McDonald said. “My parents smoked, so it was easy to get cigarettes. My friends smoked. I didn’t really think of it as a big deal.”

McDonald smoked for more than 30 years. He tried to quit multiple times and was finally successful just over 10 years ago.

In March 2019, McDonald, 61 years old, went to see his primary care physician, Chris Simpson, MD, a family medicine doctor with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Southeast. It was only the second time McDonald had been to see Dr. Simpson. McDonald’s history of smoking came up, so Dr. Simpson recommended a lung cancer screening.

Low-Dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screenings are an effective tool in screening for lung cancer and are done before a person has any symptoms. Without this screening test, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms. At that time, the cancer is much harder to treat.

An LDCT lung screening is recommended for people who are at high risk of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). High-risk patients fit the following criteria:

  • Age 55-77 and
  • Currently, or in the past, have smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years and
  • A current smoker or one who has quit within the last 15 years and
  • Have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer affecting both men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Though he had no family history of lung cancer, McDonald fit all of the criteria for a screening. The results came back clear: McDonald had stage 3 lung cancer.

McDonald was referred to Mohammad Siddiqui, MD a pulmonary and critical care specialist with Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital. Dr. Siddiqui revealed that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes around McDonald’s right lung, so surgery was not an option. However, they would be able to treat the cancer with chemotherapy and radiation, which was to begin immediately.

McDonald went through seven weeks of treatment that ended on May 23, 2019, which just happened to be McDonald’s 39th anniversary with his wife, Linda.

“Needless to say, we learned most patients aren’t diagnosed with symptoms until stage 4 so Dr. Simpson quite honestly saved my husband’s life,” Linda said. “All doctors have been wonderful, understanding and forthright throughout this process.”

McDonald’s cancer is currently in remission as he and his wife look forward to their 40th wedding anniversary.

For more information about LDCT and other types of lung cancer screening, or are looking for help to quit smoking, visit https://cancer.memorialhermann.org/conditions-treatments/low-dose-ct-lung-cancer-screening-at-memorial-hermann/

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