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Scans Play a Big Part in Early Lung Cancer Detection

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TWC News: Scans Play a Big Part in Early Lung Cancer Detection
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Lung cancer is the deadliest of common cancers and like most other cancers the key is early detection. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Dara Joy Cohen doesn't smoke. She sings, dances and acts. But in 2005 a serious bout of pneumonia made performing very difficult.

"My breath for dancing was really not good. My kids would look at me like when I was teaching and be like, 'Ms. Dara are you ok?'" recalls Cohen.

She was getting sick two to three times a year, each time her coughing and wheezing got worse. Eventually doctors misdiagnosed her with asthma. In 2011, she got a CT scan and her doctor discovered a carcinoid tumor was completely blocking her left lung.

"Because it was in the intersection he said it was absolutely 100 percent impossible to cut it out and save any of my lung," says Cohen.

It would have meant no more singing and dancing so Cohen went and got a second opinion from Mount Sinai's chief of thoracic surgery, Dr. Raja Flores.

"When we put a tube down her throat to look in there, we could see past it and when you see past it, then there’s hope that you can sew things back together again," says Flores.

And that's what he did, saving Cohen's lung, leaving a scar on her back as a reminder.
Now she's breathing easy and credits Flores and the CT scan for saving her life.

"The benefits of getting tested, whether it's CAT scan or an MRI so far outweigh the risk of what the alternative is," says Cohen.

Less than five percent of lung cancer cases are carcinoid tumors. They occur randomly, like Cohen's, and are usually found incidentally through CAT scans.

"Let’s say you’re in your 20s or 30s, and you have newly diagnosed asthma, one thing that the pulmonologist has to keep in their mind is that, 'Could this be a carcinoid tumor?'" says Flores.

While the use of radiation even in low doses is controversial, Flores says CT scans should be used more often as a screening measure for those at high risk like smokers and people with a family history of lung cancer.

"It saves probably more people than breast cancer screening, than colon cancer screening, and prostate cancer screening. When you catch it early, you can really make a difference," says Flores.

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