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Annual screenings save lives

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When Darlene Richardet got the news she had lung cancer, the easiest decision she had to make was to put down her cigarettes and not look back.

Richardet, 63, lives in Cole Camp and sees Nurse Practitioner Pamela Eckhoff at Bothwell Cole Camp Clinic. Last fall she had an appointment with Eckhoff for her annual wellness checkup and blood work. At the time, she smoked about one pack of cigarettes a day for many years.

“She (Eckhoff) told me that Medicare pays for a lung cancer screening,” Richardet said. “I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t see any reason to do it because I didn’t have any symptoms of lung cancer. But Pam pushed me to consider it, and I’m glad I changed my mind.”

The screening, a low dose computed tomography (CT) scan, which Bothwell began offering in January 2019, is the only method recommended for lung cancer screening in high-risk patients. High-risk is defined as individuals between 55 and 80 years old who have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, etc.) and who are current smokers or have quit within the last 15 years. The low-dose scan uses 75% less radiation than a regular CT scan and does not require any IV contrast. 

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 228,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year, with a new diagnosis happening every 2.3 minutes. According to the American Lung Association, screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans among those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20% by detecting tumors at early stages when they are more likely to be curable. Lung cancer screening is covered by Medicare for patients 55 to 77 years old and by most commercial insurance plans for patients 55 to 80 years old.

Richardet received her low-dose CT scan at Bothwell Diagnostic Center. Results showed a suspicious spot and Dr. Dan Woolery with Bothwell Pulmonary Specialists ordered a CT-guided biopsy and a PET scan to investigate further.

“They told me the PET scan would glow if the spot was cancerous, and it glowed,” she said. “It came back as stage 1 lung cancer. It was a pretty big shock to me. I laid down my cigarettes and haven’t picked them up since.” 

After the diagnosis, Richardet elected to receive her radiation treatment at KU Medical Center in order to be closer to some of her five children who helped her throughout treatment. Now finished with radiation, she had her latest scan about two months ago, which showed the spot has shrunk. She will continue to see Woolery for regular checkups.

“I sure appreciate Pam’s suggestion that I get the test done,” she said. “Bless her heart that she pushed me just enough to do it and thank God I did. It was small and caught really early. My advice to people is to get the test if it’s offered or just ask to get it. It doesn’t take very long, and the process was very easy, almost like an X-ray, so just go get it done. It saved my life.”

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