How $129 diagnostic test saved me from lung cancer

Image of author’s lungs showing a 2 cm lesion in his lower right lobe

Spending $129 on a diagnostic test saved me from the worst of lung cancer. What is more horrible is that health insurance in the USA does not typically cover this test. It still seems crazy that the cash price of a low dose CT scan is so low, but I’ll rant about American health care and insurance in another article.

I wanted to share the story of my successful (so far) battle against lung cancer. I hope my journey will get more people to get a low-dose CT scan to catch their cancer and heart disease earlier.

I am a previous smoker. In my 20’s I smoked around 1/2 pack a day for about five years resulting in three pack-years of smoking. My doctors do not think that the amount I smoked was a significant factor in my lung cancer. I have been exposed to asbestos and possibly radon, not to mention other environmental dust such as the Mt. Saint Helens ash as a teenager.

My journey started after my yearly physical exam. My doctor proscribed the normal battery of annual blood tests, but they also wanted me to get a Cardiac CT for a Calcium Scoring test.

Why this test? I believe, that my doctor has these performed for all men over the age of 50. The primary purpose of the test is to score the calcium deposits in the heart and diagnose the potential for heart disease. However, it is also a low-dose CT scan that can uncover much more. The radiologist discovered a small 2 cm lesion in my chest.

I had no symptoms of lung cancer except for a mild insignificant impression of pain in the chest. I am an avid bicyclist (see the rest of my articles) and put in about 80 miles a week. I also play tennis and volleyball. My lung capacity was never an issue in any of my bike rides. I would’ve had a much different experience and outcome if I had classic symptoms of lung cancer.

After getting this diagnosis, I freaked out a little but kept my hopes up. I figured there are a lot of things that could explain a spot like this and remained hopeful.

Next on the schedule was a CT-assisted needle biopsy. The needle biopsy extracts part of the lesion and is sent to the lab for analysis. My lesion was indeed cancerous and an adenocarcinoma. This news was very devastating. I luckily had a very supportive partner who helped me cope with this news. My primary care physician was very kind and called me in the evening after giving me the diagnosis to check on me. It would’ve been easy to slip into anxiety and depression. I coped by getting to a state where I remained hopeful. The process had to play out to the end; the only part that I could control was my mental state.

Next, I was scheduled for a PET scan and an MRI to determine the extent of the cancer. The result of these tests put me in stage 1 or 2, the best outcome I could’ve hoped for in this situation. By the way, PET scan images are very fun and you can spin a 3D image of your body on the computer with free software.

At this point, I secured a referral to the thoracic surgery department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. After a day of additional tests, I consulted with my surgeon. The plan was to perform a lobectomy of my lower right lobe. I hoped for a wedge resection that would’ve preserved more of my lung capacity, but standard protocol in situations where the patient will not have a compromised ability to breathe. My surgeon also saw other areas in the CT scan that he also resected. The pathology of these was negative.

If you have ever smoked, been around construction dust, radon, or other things that you may have breathed in, I highly recommend getting a low-dose CT scan. For more information on lung cancer, read about lung cancer early detection and screen from the American Cancer Society.

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