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The importance of prevention

A Temple University flag blows in the wind on main campus on Saturday, April 30.

When Terry Levins from Somerton found that she had stage 1 lung cancer, she was thankful to catch it early. 

She was no stranger to cancer – Levins lost her husband and brother-in-law to the disease, and she herself had been diagnosed with bladder cancer back in 2006. 

Dr. Cherie P. Erkmen, Director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Temple University Hospital, performed the scan on Levins. She found a cluster on Levins’ upper right lung and recommended a treatment plan.

“I wanted it out right away,” Levins said.

After monitoring her cancer every 6 months, Levins finally got it removed on Feb. 17 through Temple’s Health System. 

Now, she hopes to encourage others to take advantage of Temple’s screening options. 

“It’s one of those things that you think, ‘Eh, well, OK, I’ll get to it,’ ” Levins said. “But it’s so important to do it early, to get these screenings.”

Temple’s Healthy Chest Initiative involves programs at both Temple University Hospital and Fox Chase Cancer Center. The goal is to detect lung cancer early, before the disease moves into higher and more deadly stages.

The scan itself takes just 10 minutes, and requires no preparation for the patient. 

“The important thing is to get this before you have symptoms of lung cancer. Once you have symptoms you are at a later stage. Finding lung cancer before any symptoms arise is the value of screening and early stage identification improves survival,” said Dr. Gerard Criner, chair of Thoracic Medicine and Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple and director of the Temple Lung Center.

If any abnormalities are found, a nurse will discuss a plan with the patient and coordinate proper care. 

In February, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded the eligibility for lung cancer screenings. 

The updated list includes those who are ages 50 to 80, currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years and have a smoking history of at least 20 pack years. A “pack year” equals the number of years smoked multiplied by the average number of packs smoked per day.

“You have in your power and your control, by going to get a CT scan early, finding something and making a decision instead of having 10 weeks left like my brother-in-law had,” Levins said. “You find out towards the end of your life that you could have bought yourself a whole lot more time.”

CT scans are available at the following locations: Fox Chase Cancer Center, Temple University Hospital – Main Campus, Temple University Hospital – Jeanes Campus, Temple University Hospital – Northeastern Campus and Temple University Hospital – Episcopal Campus.

To schedule an appointment for a lung cancer screening call 800 TEMPLE MED.

“When you go for a preventative maintenance thing, you’re going to stop yourself from having surgery later or going through the course of chemotherapy,” Levins said. “The one thing you can’t buy in this lifetime is time.”

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