Laurie Striebel, left, credits early detection for surviving lung cancer. She received treatment from Beaumont Health’s Dr. Michael Coello, center, and physician assistant David Humphrey.

Laurie Striebel, left, credits early detection for surviving lung cancer. She received treatment from Beaumont Health’s Dr. Michael Coello, center, and physician assistant David Humphrey.

Photo by Tony Simler

Early detection is key in fighting lung cancer

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 23, 2018


EASTPOINTE — The words “lung cancer” can strike fear into any individual, but physicians across the country are trying to get the word out that early detection can mean the difference between life and death.

Doctors say that certain cancers, such as lung cancer, can show few if any signs in their early stages. However, if those who meet certain criteria get a computerized tomography scan — or CT scan — medical treatment can begin at an earlier point in the disease’s progression.

Seventy-three-year-old Eastpointe resident Laurie Striebel started smoking at age 17. While a student at Dominican High School in Detroit, she and her friends started smoking, and she continued smoking until about five years ago. She eventually learned the risks of smoking but never showed any signs of a serious problem.

“It’s very much a silent cancer,” Striebel warned. “There’s no symptoms of early stage lung cancer. By the time you’re getting a cough, it’s almost always from a very late stage cancer. I played golf, I did Zumba, I sang in the choir. I had no symptoms of anything, and I still needed this test.”

Striebel discovered her early stage lung cancer almost by accident after going to see a doctor on a totally unrelated matter. She was advised to get a CT scan, which revealed a small nodule on her lung, which was later determined to be cancerous.

“I went into my family doctor because I was so dizzy and had a sinus infection,” Striebel said. “A sharp young resident saw I used to smoke and never had a CT scan, and she saw I fit the parameters of people who should get the test.”

David Humphrey is a physician assistant at the Beaumont Hospital Lung Nodule Clinic in Grosse Pointe. He was among those who worked with Striebel throughout the treatment process, and he said she fit all the parameters for someone who should get tested for lung cancer.

“One of the screening criteria is age — 55 to 77 is the best age to start looking for these risks,” he said. “Another is someone being a current smoker or someone who quit in the last 15 years. The third criteria we look at is pack years. A pack year is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for 30 years. This could mean two packs a day for 15 years or half a pack a day for 60 years, for instance.”

Treatment began immediately, and Striebel had surgery Sept. 13. Less than two months later, she was declared cancer-free. She was grateful for the work by her doctors, but said she wanted to do her part in encouraging others to get tested if they are at risk of lung cancer.

“My right, upper (lung) lobe was taken out, but because I was in very good health otherwise, I recovered very quickly, but I, of course, am following up on it very closely,” she said. “I was extremely grateful afterward, and relieved, of course. I was ready to get moving right after, but I wanted to give back somehow because I was diagnosed so early — at stage one. I wanted to let people know to do this and do what I could to get the word out.”

Humphrey said there has been a major shift from doctors in recent years to try and identify lung cancer earlier in order to better be able to treat it.

“For many years, it’s been recommended universally to screen for different cancers that are prominent, like breast cancer or colon cancer. We were making a lot of progress in survival rates in cancers, except in lung cancer,” he explained. “There was a big push in the medical community to start advocating for early screenings for high-risk populations for early stage lung cancer. It’s obviously more treatable when they are found earlier, as they may have a better response to chemotherapy or radiation, and they have better chances to become part of trials. This showed a huge improvement in lung cancer survival.”

Humphrey said the significance of a low-dose radiation CT scan couldn’t be understated, because it has been the best tool for combating lung cancer during the last 10 years.

“A chest X-ray has its role, evaluating for different types of diseases, but a chest X-ray is a two-dimensional image, and we can’t evaluate it in a three-dimensional way,” he said. “That makes it far more difficult to evaluate. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional image. We get far more detailed information based on size, and evaluate the borders of a nodule. A smooth and rounded nodule is not as much of a risk as a spiky, irregularly shaped nodule, for instance.”

Doctors advise anyone who meets the three risk criteria to ask their primary care physician about their risks immediately.

“The first step is to go to a primary care physician. If you don’t have one, you should immediately get one. That’s always the best place to start and talk about whether it’s appropriate to screen for lung cancer,” said Humphrey. “If people get a scan completed and it shows something suspicious, they often will get referred to a specialized office like the Lung Nodule Clinic.”

Humphrey said Striebel is a success story. He hopes more people follow her lead and get proactive about cancer prevention.

“Just having a screening exam done, most insurances will have that covered,” Humphrey explained. “Maybe this is something (a patient) has been dealing with for a long time, but they haven’t been able to quit because they haven’t seen anything wrong. They should still look into this. Early detection is always the best chance for a positive outcome for treatment.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.