Marsha Gerber’s Story: The Luck of Lung Cancer CT Scan

Early detection of lung cancer increases the survival rates for patients and increases the number of treatment options available to patients. In 2021, the US Preventive Services Task Force issued new lung cancer screening guidelines that increase the number of people who should be getting lung cancer CT scans in an effort to catch it sooner and at early stages.

Marsha Gerber is in the group of “the lucky ones” whose lung cancer CT scan detected her lung cancer at Stage 1 back in 2013.

“I know how lucky I am. I have met so many people who have learned of their lung cancer by accident. It will be ten years in March 2023 and I know how much worse it could have been.”

It Started with an Annoying Cough

Beginning in 2006, Marsha Gerber had a cough. At first it was little more than annoying. But over time it became problematic. As a court stenographer, her coughing was disruptive. The noisy cough would cause her to miss what was being said and would, as she put it, annoy the lawyers and, presumably, the judge.

Walking more than a quick straightaway became challenging, curtailing her ability to hike with her friends. While working out with a personal trainer, she found herself utterly unable to do certain things. Finally, she brought it up with her primary care doctor who prescribed a heart monitor to assess what was happening. When the results came back normal, the doctor blamed stress and her weight. Marsha continued on with life.

A Lung Cancer CT Scan Finds “Something”

By December, 2011 with her symptoms getting increasingly more difficult to manage, Marsha underwent a series of tests. This assessment of her pulmonary function also included a CT scan and a barium swallow. They discovered “something” on the CT scan. But, not especially concerned, her doctor recommended doing a follow up scan three months later.

Three months later, February, 2012, imaging showed that the “something” looked the same as it had on prior scans. So Marsha’s doctor told her to come back in another year. It wasn’t until February, 2013 that it became evident that Marsha had non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The good news: it was Stage 1. She recalls her thoracic surgeon very simply stating, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

Another Lucky Find in Lung Cancer Detection

Lucky indeed. Unlike most lung cancer patients, Marsha did not have to undergo additional diagnostic tests such as a biopsy, a PET scan, or a CT scan. The imaging alone provided everything that the medical team needed to determine treatment. Two weeks later, Marsha had surgery to remove the upper lobe of her left lung. Her margins were clear, so her doctor didn’t see the need for chemotherapy, radiation, or any other follow up medication. Marsha already understood how lucky she was.

Six months later, in September, 2013, another “something” showed up, this time on Marsha’s right lung. Because it was amorphous – as opposed to being a mass – a biopsy was unsuccessful in grasping any material to test. It was decided that the best course of action would be to perform a wedge resection on the upper lobe of her right lung.

Annual Lung Cancer CT Scans For This Survivor

Since that time, Marsha’s scan schedule has gone from every three months to every six months, and now yearly. Although some nodules still remain on imaging, Marsha considers herself as a survivor with lung disease.

Know the Facts About Lung Cancer Screening

Approximately 1 in 4 lung cancer patients will be diagnosed in the earliest stage, before it has spread from the lungs. If lung cancer is caught at this stage, the likelihood of surviving 5 years or more improves to 60% compared to the 23% 5-year survival rate for later stage lung cancer diagnosis. Early detection through lung cancer CT screening can decrease lung cancer mortality rates by 14%-20% among high-risk populations.

In the United States, about 10% to 20% of lung cancers (approximately 20,000 to 40,000 lung cancers each year) happen in people who never smoked or smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. Most lung cancer symptoms can be associated with other health issues. Testing for lung cancer is often overlooked until many other options are ruled out.

If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. Lung cancer CT scans help patients detect lung cancer earlier, increasing survival rates and treatment options.