The start of the new year is a great time to prioritize your health. A way to accomplish this is to schedule an annual physical with your physician and also get screened if you are at risk for, or have a family history of, certain serious conditions like cancer.
One type of cancer that can be tricky to detect and diagnose is lung cancer. Although the majority of those who suffer from it are smokers, an estimated 10 to 20% of diagnosed cases in the United States occur in people who have never smoked.
CTVS board-certified thoracic surgeon Dr. Rachel Medbery recently cared for patient, Jack Featherston, who was unexpectedly diagnosed with a Stage 1 lung cancer nodule through a CT scan after a bike injury. He was lucky in that it was detected early, and his prognosis is now excellent following surgical treatment.
The Austin American Statesman recently shared Jack’s story and why it’s important to be vigilant about follow-up appointments if your doctor detects something out of the ordinary.
There was a special silver lining to this bike injury.
Please tell us about your diagnosis and what led you to Dr. Medbery?
In October 2020, we celebrated our wedding anniversary and my birthday at the same time. We traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas for a wonderful bike trip. I was biking alone, hit a jump, took a tumble and hurt my shoulder. Once back at home, the orthopedic doctor ordered a CT scan of my shoulder. It was then that the radiologist noticed a spot on my lung.
I had no symptoms whatsoever, and I was not a smoker nor had ever worked around hazardous materials. They called it an “incidental finding.” The radiologist recommended a full body CT scan which led to a referral to a pulmonologist. The nodule measured one centimeter (cm) in size, and so I was told to return three, six, and twelve months later to get checked.
In September 2022, I underwent a needle biopsy, and it was found to be adenocarcinoma, or a cancer that forms in the tissues lining organs, like the lungs. That’s when I was referred to Dr. Medbery, my thoracic surgeon.
What was your reaction to your lung cancer diagnosis, especially since you are a non-smoker?
My initial reaction was a little scary, but after talking with my pulmonologist, it calmed my fears.
What was your course of treatment?
I had an upper lobectomy (performed by Dr. Medbery) to remove the affected part of my lung. I was up walking around later that same day and stayed in the hospital for three nights. Dr. Medbery and her team took great care of me.
What would be your message to others stemming from your experience?
Always follow up rigorously with any visits recommended by your doctor. When the doctor says come back, get out your calendar and get those appointments scheduled!
Dr. Medbery strongly supports what Jack says about not neglecting to do due diligence on any suspicious health findings during routine or other screenings.
“It is so important for patients not to ignore unexpected incidental findings when they have imaging for another reason,” cautions Dr. Medbery.
“Oftentimes these are things that otherwise would cause major problems later on, such as in Jack’s case, advanced lung cancer. Patients should think about these findings as a blessing in disguise. Please do not ignore them.”
Dr. Medbery also adds that it is a good idea to follow up with a surgeon, in the case of a lung cancer diagnosis, to determine if surgery could be an effective option for treatment.
Additional information on lung cancer screenings can be found here.