Regular scans for smokers help spot cancer early

Lyn Boland
Cancer survivor Lyn Boland speaks with 24 Hour News 8's Emily Linnert. (Nov. 7, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids cancer center is beating the national average when it comes to spotting and attacking lung cancer early.

A lifetime of smoking can mean a death sentence if it leads to lung cancer. Doctors at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center want longtime smokers to know that the earlier they catch cancer, the better.

“I won’t forget which day I was drafted. Dec. 7, 1967,” Lyn Boland said.

Vietnam veteran Lyn Boland says he got lucky in Vietnam. After being drafted and weeks of training, he ended up becoming a mailman.

But he picked up more than just mail during his time in Vietnam. He also picked up a smoking habit.

“All the guys that didn’t smoke, they ended up doing all the policing of the area. So we decided, a lot of us decided, we’re going to start smoking,” Boland recalled.

Years turned into decades and decades into a lifetime of smoking. Boland finally quit 14 years ago.

Boland is the type of person that doctors like Bruce Shabahang at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center are looking for. The center offers frequent low-dose CT scans for longtime smokers.

Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center Dr. Bruce Shabahang
Photo: Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center Dr. Bruce Shabahang speaks with 24 Hour News 8’s Emily Linnert. (Nov. 7, 2017)

“We can actually save lives and improve our survival — five-year, 10-year survival — by doing these lung screenings,” Shabahang said.

One of those low-radiation CT scans picked up a 2 millimeter spot on Lyn’s lung. The next scan a year later showed growth, leaving Boland with two options.

“Being that I wanted to live longer and see my grandchildren, I decided option two was what I wanted,” said Boland.

Option two was removal of that spot and a second lease on life.

“Part of my lung is gone, I don’t breathe as well as everybody else but you know what? I’m alive,” said Boland.

Early detection is key with lung cancer. Shabahang said the low-radiation CT scan is invaluable in terms of catching it quickly.

“It’s a minimally invasive study. It requires minimum radiation because it’s low-dose CT scan. And literally within two, three minutes the study can be done,” Shabahang said.

Three percent of those screened at the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center are diagnosed with lung cancer. The national average is 1.5 percent to 2 percent, Shabahang said.

Boland says it’s wasn’t luck that helped catch his cancer early.

“I have a guardian angel,” he said.

The Mercy Health lung cancer screening program offers low-dose CT scans to people who:

  • Are between the ages of 55 and 80,
  • Are current smokers or were a heavy smokers who quit within the last 15 years, and
  • Smoked at least 1 pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years.

More information can be found on the program’s webpage.