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The lifesaving impact of lung cancer screening

Lung Cancer affects almost 8,000 Veterans and nearly 240,000 Americans every year. Air Force Veteran Douglas Cross knows this better than most. A low-dose CT scan found his cancer at an early stage when lung cancer is most treatable.

Cross, a machinist who joined the Air Force on the buddy system with his best friend, spent four years on active duty before returning home to Houston.

“Coming up through the Air Force, I remember back in basic the only way you could take a break is if you smoked cigarettes. At every break I remember bumming a cigarette. I know it started during basic, and it just never stopped over the years,” Cross recalled.

As he got older, he grew concerned with his smoking habit and knew he was at risk for lung cancer. “I started wondering, do I have cancer? It runs in my family,” he asked. In late 2022, his primary care provider sent him for tests and Stage II lung cancer was discovered. After his diagnosis, he quit smoking with the help of medication.

Living life to the fullest

By summer 2023, Cross had completed chemotherapy and was scheduled for surgery to have part of his left lung removed. Out of the potential 27 lymph nodes that the cancer could have impacted, only one showed trace amounts that would require Cross to be under surveillance by his medical team at Houston VA. The surgery was successful and Cross returned to his normal day-to-day activities at the end of September 2023.

“I’m just grateful overall that cancer is not going to be what knocks me out. I’m going to be bigger than cancer. That’s the message I want to spread now to other people who’ve been affected by it and are going through it right now,” Cross shared.

There are many reasons people want to quit tobacco—better physical and mental health, saving money, setting a good example, starting a family—and the benefits of quitting begin almost immediately.

Lung cancer screening

VA encourages Veterans to discuss lung cancer screening with their VA health care provider.

You may qualify for lung cancer screening if you:

Are 50- to 80-years old

Smoke cigarettes now or quit within the past 15 years

Smoked cigarettes for at least 20 pack-years

A “pack year” is an estimate of how many tobacco products you have smoked in your lifetime. Twenty “pack years” equals smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years or two packs of cigarettes a day for 10 years. If you want to talk to your VA provider about lung cancer screening, call your VA care team or visit My HealtheVet.

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