DHMC doctor's study tracks improvement in early lung cancer outcomes

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) There is some good news when it comes to people diagnosed with stage one lung cancer -- survival rates are rapidly increasing.

Richard Williams has smoked cigarettes for 40 years. In November, he was diagnosed with stage one lung cancer. "When they told me I had lung cancer, at first it was kind of a scary thing," Williams said.

The Air Force veteran just began radiation treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "They say it wouldn't bother me that much, and it hasn't. It is kind of an amazing thing. I actually fell asleep in the machine," he said.

And there is another reason for him to relax a little bit. "For stage one, really what we are talking about is trying to cure these," said Doctor Nirav Kapadia, a professor of radiation oncology at DHMC. He tracked 65,000 stage one lung cancer patients from 2000 to 2010. The study was recently published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. It found survival rates of stage one lung cancer have increased by 10-percent. "A ten percent gain in cancer is not something we typically see in such a short amount of time," Kapadia said.

Smokers are at the highest risk for lung cancer. Common symptoms include a cough that doesn't go away, coughing up blood, unexpected wait loss, or chest pain. Doctors say early detection through CAT screenings can be a life saver because treatment techniques, specifically radiation and surgery, are getting more and more effective. "Because we are able to use less invasive surgical techniques, and I also think that radiation has come a long way, and we saw almost a doubling in the survival of radiation patients, and that is likely due to newer technologies and newer equipment in radiation," Kapadia said.

The technology concentrates high doses of radiation to a very specific area of the body. One of those machines is now available for patients in the St. Johnsbury area. "Part of the Dartmouth mission is to bring the right care to the right patient at the right time, and by having the facility in St. Johnsbury we are bringing state-of-the art therapies to the rural northern kingdom," Kapadia said.

Williams, who lives in southern Vermont, says he's lucky he caught his cancer early. "My plan is beating it. You know, I am going to fight it," he said.

It's a fight this veteran says he's ready for.