Cancer Care

Annual Screenings

Early Detection is Crucial

If caught early enough, lung cancer has an 80 to 90 percent five-year survival rate. Annual screenings of high-risk patients can diagnose at least 80 percent of lung cancers at Stage I. Gary Plog is one Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center patient who credits screenings with saving his life.

“There is a dramatic difference in the chances of beating this disease if we find it in early screening.”

Deb Meyers
Program Manager for the Methodist Lung/Thoracic Oncology Clinic

Leading Cause of Cancer Deaths

More people in the world die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. This is true for both men and women. In 2012 (the most recent year numbers are available) 210,828 people in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer, including 111,395 men and 99,433 women. Of those diagnosed, 157,423 died, including 86,689 men and 70,734 women. Lung cancer usually shows no signs or early symptoms. It is often too late when you notice any symptoms at all.

A Leader in Early Detection

Gary Plog spent 40 years as a smoker and lost two brothers to cancer. He was an ideal candidate for the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) at the Estabrook Cancer Center.  Methodist is the only hospital in Omaha to be a part of the I-ELCAP. Methodist is also designated a Center for Lung Cancer Screening Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance.

I-ELCAP uses a low-dose CT scan of the chest to help find cancerous lung nodules. Gary went in for his first lung cancer screening in early 2009. The initial scan found two nodules in his lungs but doctors said they were not out of the ordinary or alarming. It was not until his fifth scan four years later that one began showing signs of change.

Methodist physicians found the cancer early enough to use an advanced surgical technique to treat Gary, Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS). Instead of making a large incision, the surgeon placed a thin tube with a small video camera on the end through a small incision. Two incisions on his back are the only reminder of this less-invasive procedure enabling the surgeons to find the hard to reach nodules. Today, Gary is cancer free.

“To be quite honest, I’m just happy to be here. Every day. “Hey… I beat cancer. Life is awesome.”

Gary Plog
Lung Cancer Survivor

A Commitment to Yourself

Screening is not a one-time test. It is a process of repeat chest CT exams to look for suspicious lung nodules that develop or change over time. Screening is recommended for people who are most likely to develop lung cancer. Insurance does cover screenings if you meet certain criteria. “Our screening is a low-dose CT so we can get good pictures of the lungs while limiting a patient’s exposure to radiation,” said Deb Meyers Program Manager for the Methodist Lung/Thoracic Oncology Clinic, “That’s important because the screenings are done annually, as you never know when the cancers may form.” 

Gary urges those at risk to be screened early, and for smokers to stop now before it is too late. He said, “This has changed my life, my outlook."

Editor's Note: In July of 2014 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended annual lung cancer screening for those at high risk:

  • 55-80 years
  • Equivalent of smoking 1 pack/day for 30 years
  • Current smoker or quit in the last 15 years
  • No symptoms of lung cancer

For more information or to schedule the test please call the Methodist Lung Clinic 402-354-5858

Gary Plog was featured in "The Meaning of Care Magazine - Fall 2013."