To defeat lung cancer, get screened, VA says

Connecting Vets
August 03, 2020 - 12:55 pm

Department of Veterans Affairs

For Navy veteran Jim Pantelas, battling lung cancer is personal.

A survivor of stage 3 lung cancer with stage 4 lymph node involvement, Pantelas spent the last 15 years working to fund new lung

cancer research, combat patient stigma and improve care for lung cancer patients, reports VA Reports search.

In partnership with the Lung Cancer Alliance, which is part of the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, Pantelas frequently finds himself on Capitol Hill lobbying to increase funding for lung cancer research and early detection programs.

“Early screening is the single biggest thing that has hit lung cancer in forever. You can talk all you want about immunotherapies that are available for lung cancer, and they are wonderful. But they only treat 15 percent of the lung cancer population,” he said in a VA blog.  

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With lung cancer screening programs, physicians are catching more cancer earlier, when it is still treatable, said Pantelas. Historically,  most lung cancers were caught at stage 4, when treatment options were limited.

Around 900,000 veterans are at risk of developing lung cancer due to age, a history of smoking, and environmental exposures during or after military service. 

“In my era, Agent Orange was a given,” said Pantelas. “If you served a day in Vietnam and you got lung cancer, it was (presumed to be related to Agent Orange). But it took 20 years to get there.”

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VA has teamed up with GO2 Foundation to increase awareness about lung cancer screening and to improve outcomes for veterans affected by lung cancer. The partnership will allow VA to share veteran-centric information and resources via the foundation’s 750 Screening Centers of Excellence.

“The VA-GO2 Foundation partnership will help expand the array of services that are currently available within VA,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release. “It will also increase public awareness about Veteran-specific conditions that place Veterans at greater risk for lung cancer.” 

Laurie Fenton, president and CEO of the GO2 Foundation, has been working to increase access to lung screening for veterans for more than a decade. In 2012, her work with the former Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel led to the establishment of the VA Lung Cancer Screening Demonstration Project.

The project examined the feasibility of starting a screening program in a large integrated healthcare system, like VA. It concluded in 2017 that lung screening using low-dose CT scans is an important component of care for veterans at high risk of lung cancer. The researchers noted that wide-spread implementation in a clinical setting would require further study.

In addition, VA investigators in Seattle conducted a study that examined veterans’ perceptions about smoking and cancer screening. Nearly half of respondents incorrectly said that lung screening could reduce their risk of getting lung cancer.

Each year, VA diagnoses 7,700 veterans with lung cancer.

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