Early Detection of Lung Cancer Saves a Life

When Bonnie Mandarich’s doctor saw a spot on the CT scan of her lung, she figured it was nothing to worry about. Benign nodules commonly appear on CT scans. Bonnie was physically fit and had no history of cancer in her family.

Several weeks later, when Bonnie saw National Jewish Health pulmonologist Donald Rollins, MD, for a sinus problem, he recommended a CT scan of her lungs as well as her sinuses.

He, too, saw the spot on her lungs, and decided to investigate.

National Jewish Health radiologist Debra Dyer, MD, compared the new scans with those done a few months before. Using sophisticated software that allowed her to reconstruct a three-dimensional model from the two-dimensional CT scans, Dr. Dyer discovered that the nodule had grown. Red flags went up and Dr. Rollins referred Bonnie to the National Jewish Health Cancer Center.

Additional testing indicated that the nodule was probably lung cancer. The nodule was still small and likely to be at an early stage if it were cancer. Bonnie could wait a few months to see if the nodule continued to grow or have it removed.

Both Bonnie and her husband were quiet on their car ride home that afternoon as they tried to make sense of it all. “It was devastating,” said Bonnie. “I was sure I was going to die.”

After a few days, Bonnie and David decided to have Michael Weyant, MD, remove a small portion of Bonnie’s lung that contained the nodule. Pathologists confirmed after the operation that the nodule was indeed cancer. It was stage IA, an early stage.

Within a few weeks, Bonnie recovered from the minimally invasive surgery and has resumed exercise, including skiing. She has an excellent prognosis.

“The doctors at National Jewish Health were so thorough and so professional and so compassionate, that I felt I was in the best hands possible,” said Bonnie. “I have referred several of my friends to National Jewish Health since that time.”

Bonnie was fortunate. Her cancer was detected early, before she had any symptoms and before it had spread. Most lung cancers are detected only after people begin to develop symptoms when the cancer is at an advanced stage and survival odds are much worse. Overall five-year survival for lung cancer in the United States is only about 15 percent for all stages. The survival rate is only about 4 percent for cancers detected after they have spread beyond the lung. Bonnie was also fortunate because her cancer was detected somewhat by chance, as a part of her evaluation for sinus problems.


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