Preventive screening detects lung cancer in an otherwise healthy patient

Antoinette Barnes-Murdock, lung cancer patient

Antoinette Barnes-Murdock had no symptoms of lung cancer. But with a long history of heavy smoking and being 68 years old, she fit the criteria to be screened for the disease.

So, when she visited a kidney specialist for another condition, that physician suggested Barnes-Murdock get a lung cancer screening.

Barnes-Murdock underwent a scan called low-dose computed tomography, or LDCT, which created detailed pictures of her lungs. The scan showed a small mass in her left lung.

The Dolton resident was referred to hematologist and oncologist Danielle Sterrenberg, MD, at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey. After the mass was determined to be stage 1 lung cancer, cardiothoracic surgeon Daniel Ciaburri, MD, removed the tumor and several lymph nodes.

“I had no idea I had it, but I thank God I took the test,” Barnes-Murdock said. "If I had not gone for the CT scan, I never would have been diagnosed."

With the help and support of her husband, she recovered quickly from surgery and did not need further treatment.

Sterrenberg called Barnes-Murdock a “poster child” for why lung cancer screenings are important. “Lung cancer screening has advanced in the last three years. Without these screenings, patients are often diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 and the outcomes are not as good,” she said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in this country. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends an annual lung cancer screening for patients 55 to 80 years old who currently smoke, who quit within the last 15 years, or who have a history of smoking 30 "pack years" - one pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years.

Barnes-Murdock smoked for 30 years — a habit she picked up in college — until she decided to quit in early 2019.

“I had just gotten off diabetic medication and two other prescriptions, so I wanted to get healthy," she said. “If I wanted a good quality of life I needed to give up smoking.”

While she had a history of cancer in her family, Barnes-Murdock hadn't been experiencing any signs or symptoms of lung cancer. Symptoms typically include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, weight loss and chest pain that worsens with breathing, laughing or coughing.

She recognized that like her, other African American women over the age of 65 may neglect important health issues.

“It’s something where we need to do better,” she said. “I believe in preventive maintenance. Know your body and get it checked out when something isn’t functioning right.”

The most effective way to reduce risk of developing lung cancer is to quit smoking. Learn more about UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial's Courage to Quit ® smoking cessation program.

Additional resources include: The Illinois Tobacco Quit Line: 1-866-QUIT-YES or www.quityes.org and The American Lung Association Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-LUNG-USA or www.smokefree.gov.

Is Lung Cancer Screening Right for You?

Learn about how lung cancer screening can detect early cancers, when they're more treatable. Find out if you're a candidate for this painless scan that's available at several UChicago Medicine locations throughout the Chicago area.

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