Maureen Devlin, 72, hasn’t had a cigarette for more than 40 years. While she was a heavy smoker in her youth, sometimes smoking as many as two packs a day, she gave it up for good during the American Cancer Society’s First Great American Smokeout, held back in 1977, and hasn’t used tobacco since.
“I was the first of my friends to quit,” the Manhattan, NY, resident said. “It’s been so many years since I quit that I don’t even keep track of how long it’s been anymore.”
Yet, new guidance regarding a history of past smoking and its link to lung cancer led Maureen’s primary care physician, Sarah Lilly, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital, to suggest that Maureen undergo a baseline CT scan, just in case. Maureen said, at first, she was a bit surprised to hear the recommendation. It had been so long since her last cigarette and she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms of cancer or lung trouble. But she agreed to the scan and also to see Ann Tilley, MD, a pulmonologist at the hospital.
“My doctor recommended Dr. Tilley and said she would be a good person to have on my team moving forward,” she said. “I had the scan, and everything looked fine.”
But a repeat scan the following year showed a small shape on her lung that Dr. Tilley flagged as something to watch.
“At the time, she told me not to worry too much,” Maureen said. “But she wanted to keep an eye on it to see if it changed over time.”
When Maureen underwent another routine scan this past year, the shape had evolved. Dr. Tilley immediately ordered a PET scan, and three spots lit up, one on Maureen’s lymph node and two on her lung. A biopsy confirmed that the tumors were malignant, and Maureen was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer.
“I was in shock, I think. I didn’t have any symptoms. Nothing felt wrong with me, but I somehow had cancer,” she said. “Luckily, I had good, consistent medical care. And the doctors found it before it got too bad.”