Lung Cancer Survivor Shares the Value of Screening - PIH Health

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Published on November 29, 2016

Lung Cancer Survivor Shares the Value of Screening

Johanna Villarreal - lung cancer survivor

Johanna Villarreal - lung cancer survivorJohanna Villarreal just might be the top patient advocate for PIH Health’s Lung Cancer Screening Program. That’s because without this program, Johanna would not have known she had lung cancer. The screening may very well have saved her life.

Johanna, now 74 years old, started smoking in her teens, and smoked off-and-on her entire life.

I often tried to quit,” Johanna said. “I went to smoking cessation classes and even tried acupuncture. I would stop smoking for a year or two, then start up again. For me, smoking was a stress reliever.”

But two years ago, Johanna’s breathing got worse more than ever. Because she has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), she wanted to start exercising. When she could barely breathe well enough to walk, Johanna knew she had to quit smoking for good. Johanna smoked her very last cigarette on December 31, 2014, and hasn’t smoked since.

However, after she quit smoking her breathing worsened, so she decided to see her physician, William Welsh DO, who suggested a CT scan through PIH Health’s Lung Cancer Screening Program. This program screens high-risk patients using a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), that takes hundreds of pictures and transfers the images to a computer that assembles them into detailed view of the inside of the lung. A radiologist views the images to see the size, shape and location of anything abnormal in the chest area.

“My CT scan showed a cancerous nodule on one side of my lung and a small spot on the other side,” said Johanna. “I saw multiple PIH Health physicians, including a pulmonary specialist, an oncologist and a radiation oncologist. We decided that because of my pre-existing COPD, a wedge resection surgery to remove the cancer would be too risky, so I opted for targeted radiation instead.”

Over the course of six weeks, Johanna’s targeted radiation treatment ended up eradicating one nodule altogether and shrunk the second one. She now has a follow-up CT scan every three months to watch for growth and any new nodules. “I’m such an advocate for this program that when I’m out in public and see other smokers, I start talking to them about the benefits,” she said. “I tell them that lung cancer screening is the only way to make sure their lungs are fine. I also tell them to talk to their friends and family about the program. I keep the program phone number in my cell phone, and I’ve given it to about 24 people so far.”

A lung cancer screening procedure can help catch cancer early, when it is most treatable. According to Daniel Saket MD, a diagnostic radiologist at PIH Health Hospital – Whittier, studies have indicated that annual exams using low-dose computed tomography can help reduce the risk of lung cancer death by 20%.

To learn more, contact the PIH Health Lung Cancer Screening Program at 562.967.2892. And for information about smoking cessation classes, call 562.698.0811 Ext. 12549.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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