Why Vermont doctors want you to get a lung cancer screening

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "I knew something was wrong," Nancy Hale said.

Nancy Hale

Hale was skiing in Colorado when suddenly she had a hard time breathing. That's when she saw a doctor.

"They ended up finding an 8-centimeter tumor in my right lung and it spread to my chest," Hale said.

The Essex Junction woman had lung cancer.

"I was very healthy, had stopped smoking in 1988. So I didn't fit protocols," Hale said.

"Other risks include family history, exposures to radon or asbestos, heavy metals or lots of diesel fumes," said Dr. Garth Garrison, a pulmonologist in charge of the lung cancer program at the UVM Medical Center.

Garrison says lung cancer is still the number one cause of cancer-related deaths here and across the country.

"The lung cancer rate in Vermont is surprisingly a little bit above the national average. We have over 350 people a year die from lung cancer," Garrison said.

He says the disease is curable if you catch it early enough. Screenings for it are relatively new here; the UVM Medical Center has only been doing them for the past two years. And they say most people aren't getting this simple test done.

"Just in Chittenden County we think there are upward of 30,000 people eligible for the screening," Garrison said. "And right now, we're only screening a couple thousand per year."

He says some of those 30,000 patients may not know about the screenings; others don't think they need them. But he says everyone should get one, especially if you're in the high-risk group.

"Those that are 55 to 80 who have smoked 30 years one pack per day and who have quit smoking in the last 15 years or are still smoking," he said.

"I've had many people come up to me, 'Well, you've smoked, didn't you?' And it's a slap in the face. Yes I did but I quit because I didn't want to get lung cancer," Hale said.

Hale received treatment for four years and recently was told to get CAT scans just once a year. She calls herself a survivor and hopes her story saves others.

"What I have done, what I have learned, the people I have met: I think I'm supposed to be here," she said. "I think I had to have gone through this in order to survive this life."