Doctors look inside smokers’ bodies to find answers

Kent County

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Doctors and researchers are making big strides in the fight against lung cancer.

Like many cancers such as breast and prostate cancers, catching it in its early stages gives doctors and patients more options and a better chance at success.

69-year-old Marty LaBrecque had been a smoker all his life.

“I was a teenager. It was cool then. It actually was at one point. It was casual, but nicotine is not a particularly casual friend,” LaBrecque said.

Along with smoking, LaBrecque picked up his future wife when he was a teenager. The two were married for nearly 50 years before her death in 2017.

“Throat cancer. (There is) no question in my mind what the source of it was,” LaBrecque said.

After quitting and picking up the habit again and again through the years, it was time for LaBrecque to quit for good. And as he kicked the habit, he asked his doctor a very important question.

“If there was a way I could find out the state of my lungs right now. I’ve been ruining them since I was a kid. How bad am I?” he asked.

Dr. Glenn VanOtteren, a Pulmonary and Critical Care doctor at Spectrum Health, says that’s the question they want to hear from smokers. Specifically, active smokers who have 30 or more pack-years of cigarette smoking history and former smokers who quit smoking within the past 15 years.

“If we screen those patients and identify an early cancer through screening, virtually all those patients are at a stage where we can offer curative therapies,” VanOtteren said.

Doctors are taking a look inside of the bodies of those who spent years smoking by using a low dose CT scan.

“(By) using a small amount of radiation, we’ve been able to identify lesions very early where we can act on those, sort out what represents a cancer, what doesn’t and for those people who have proven to have a lung cancer, get them on the right treatment path,” VanOtteren said.

During LaBrecque’s second annual screening, doctors detected a small lesion, less than 8 millimeters in size. It was malignant.

“If I had not had those scans, who knows how long it would’ve grown and possibly spread before I even knew it was there. And that’s what really gets you,” LaBrecque said.

After minimal treatment, LaBrecque now wears the badge of cancer survivor proudly and vows to never miss an annual scan.

“And I will not touch cigarettes,” he said.

More information about the lung scan at Spectrum Health can be found on their website and more information about lung cancer can be found on the American Lung Association’s website.

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