Two years after having surgery to remove a cancerous nodular from his lung, Thomas Murphy, a Vietnam veteran, has completed two Army Ten-Milers and a half marathon.
“Most importantly, I’ve been able to see my first grandchild,” he said. “I can certainly attest to early detection for lung cancer.”
Murphy was one of the speakers during a kick-off ceremony for lung cancer screening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) on Nov. 8. The medical center will offer all military beneficiaries and District of Columbia Veterans Affairs (VA) veterans, annual lose-dose chest CT (computed tomography) scans to early detect for lung cancer, explained Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Corey A. Carter, of the Hematology-Oncology Department at WRNMMC.
In 2005, Murphy, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1970 to 1976, heard an ad on the radio seeking volunteers who were former smokers to participate in an early detection for lung cancer.
“The idea was to screen participants with CT scans before they had symptoms, to see if lung cancer could be detected early enough to prevent deaths,” Murphy explained.
“I heard the ad several times over the next few days before I decided to enroll,” he continued. “I didn’t have any symptoms, but with the risk factors I had, I did have concerns. I was a former smoker, my dad died from lung cancer, I had possible Agent Orange exposure [from duty at Bien Hoa, Vietnam], and I lived in central Maryland [which poses some risk for radon exposure].”
The Marine said his initial baseline scan was “uneventful,” but in January 2010, the scanner picked up a change in his right lung. A follow-up scan in July of the same year showed the nodular was increasing in size.
“I opted to have surgery immediately,” Murphy said, adding a 1.2 centimeter cancerous nodular was removed from his lung. “It was very early stage, Stage one out of a possible four.
“The problem is lung cancer usually does not have any obvious symptoms until later, in Stages 3 or 4,” Murphy added. “At this point, it is too late to remove the cancer by surgery. Survival rate for late stage lung cancer is in the single digits. My doctors have told me a major factor in surviving lung cancer is early detection. I certainly would attest to that.
“Accuracy is important in the screening, so it must only be done in an experienced facility with a team of doctors ready to treat any cancer that may be found,” Murphy said. “You have all that at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which is why what’s happening here is very significant.
“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is not only honoring veterans by offering screening for those at high risk, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is saving lives,” Murphy said.
Army Col. (Dr.) Craig Shriver, director of the Cancer Center at WRNMMC, agreed lung cancer screening for veterans at WRNMMC is “a fantastic opportunity in cancer prevention. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the civilian and military cancer populations,” he said, adding that unlike some other cancers, such as breast and prostate, there were no effective screening program and strategies for prevention and early detection for many years. “Lung cancer was really missing that piece,” Shriver added.
“In 2010, a study was published, the largest, most expensive trial the National Cancer Institute ever funded, which showed that early detection of lung cancer using lose dose CT scan with very minimal risk for patients, is very effective when done to a high standard and can reduce mortality from lung cancer,” Shriver said. “[Lung cancer screening] is something we must do, and certainly within the Department of Defense, and the command is supportive of all of our efforts in the Cancer Center.”
Retired NFL player Chris Draft, who also spoke at last week’s kickoff, addressed the need for early detection of lung cancer. A national spokesperson for this health-related issue, Draft lost his 38-year-old wife, Keasha, to lung cancer in December 2011. She was never a smoker when she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in December 2010.
“The numbers are undeniable,” Draft said. “Lung cancer kills more than breast, prostate, colon, liver and kidney cancers combined. Lung cancer kills double breast cancer. It’s the biggest cancer killer around.”
He said lung cancer screening offers people hope. “We’re fighting for people, and amazing veterans who laid their lives on the line. We’re saying, ‘No, we’re not going to forget about you.’ We’re fighting for folks like my wife. That hope is right here in early detection and [Walter Reed National Military Medical Center] is leading the way. I want to thank you guys for fighting for all our people, fighting for our veterans and making sure every breath they take, they’re able to enjoy and that we value that life.”
Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president and chief executive officer of Lung Cancer Alliance, agreed Walter Reed Bethesda is leading the way in early detection of lung cancer in veterans. Speaking at last week’s ceremony, she said, “This is the right thing to be doing for all veterans,” before awarding WRNMMC the alliance’s first Outstanding Leadership Award. She said the medical center is “leading the way in showing [early detection and increasing lung cancer survivability] can be done responsibly, carefully and thoughtfully. This has been an extraordinary undertaking.”
“Initiatives like this really demonstrate what we at Walter Reed Bethesda feel, and that’s ‘What We Do Matters,’” said Navy Capt. David Larson, WRNMMC’s deputy commander for clinical support services. “This screening has a significant impact on patients’ lives, and that’s what we want to stand for here at Walter Reed Bethesda. Veterans have given so much in service to our country, and this is our way of saying, ‘Thank you.’”