Pinehurst, N.C. — Tom Fletcher, 73, hasn't kicked the cigarette habit completely.
“I've been smoking for approximately 45 years,” he said.
Fletcher’s doctor referred him to First Health Moore Regional Hospital for CT lung cancer screening as part of a large national trial. Researchers were looking at whether annual CT scans for people between 55 and 74 years of age who have smoked an equivalent of a pack a day over 30 years could lower the lung cancer death rate.
“The study was actually stopped early, and we only stop studies early if we're killing people – or for saving lives. In this case, we were saving lives,” said Dr. Michael Pritchett, a pulmonologist with Moore Regional.
More people die from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer, and smoking is the leading cause. Seventy-five percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed as stage 3 or 4, for which surgery is not an option.
Pritchett says CT scans can detect something long before a standard X-ray would. CT lung cancer screenings can help reduce patient deaths by 20 percent.
“This did end up being a lung cancer, and we were able to catch this at an early stage where we can make a much bigger difference,” Pritchett said, showing the results of a CT scan on an unidentified patient.
Fletcher's last CT scan showed some signs of emphysema but no tumors.
“No cancer,” he said. “I'm planning on having it done once a year as part of my physical.”
He believes the screening – plus his own efforts to quit smoking entirely – will help him live longer.