FOREST HILLS, NY -- Thomas Hopkins smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day.
“Remember the Marlboro Man?” asks the 62-year-old Nassau County man. “That was me.”
At least it was him until 2001, when a severe respiratory infection landed him in the hospital. That’s when he kicked the habit after 30-plus years of smoking.
Recently, Mr. Hopkins visited his pulmonologist for his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease causes him to have shortness of breath and makes going up flights of stairs and long walks burdensome, he said.
As a preventive measure, his doctor suggested that Mr. Hopkins consider having yearly lung cancer screenings. Most lung cancers occur in people who smoke or in those who have smoked in the past.
More than 150,000 Americans die from lung cancer each year, according to the American Lung Association. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is most curable when diagnosed early.
A 2011 study found that low-dose radiation computed tomography (CT) scans of the lungs of people at high risk because of heavy smoking can cut their chances of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent.
A few days after Mr. Hopkins saw his doctor, he came upon a flyer for Forest Hills Hospital's lung cancer screening program. And so, he went.
The program, launched in July, offers the screenings in the hospital on Wednesdays from 10am to 1pm to current or former smokers ages 55 to 77. Using a low-dose CT scanner, a radiologist had Mr. Hopkins lie down while a scan of his chest was done.
“It was probably less than a 10-minute process,” said Mr. Hopkins. “I got the ‘all clear.’”
That means there was no sign of lung disease on his CT scan. However, this doesn’t mean Mr. Hopkins will never get lung cancer. So, based on his prior smoking history, yearly scans should be done.
In addition to aiding in the early diagnosis of lung cancer, the scans done at Forest Hills Hospital have also effectively detected other advanced lung diseases, problems in the gallbladder and liver, and abnormalities in the kidneys, said Eileen Gillespie, a nurse practitioner in the lung screening program. Those patients were referred for further treatment by hospital specialists.
The program also offers an opportunity to promote smoking cessation, which is one of the most important actions a person can take to prevent disease and maintain health, added Ms. Gillespie.