HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa (WPVI) -- Catching lung cancer early is the key to survival.
In 2013, a government panel recommended high-risk Americans get preventive screenings. That program is paying off, and now, even more people are eligible for it.
Tom McGoldrick of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., saw asbestos everywhere as an electrician in the Coast Guard.
"You cut into that to do something, you're like in a snowstorm, it's all over you. There's no way to get out of it," he recalls.
McGoldrick saw more asbestos after the military as a civilian electrician.
And he was a moderate smoker.
He had asbestosis and was being monitored for a small lung growth when a low-dose CT screening picked up a second, faster-growing nodule.
Soon, McGoldrick went to Dr. Gerard Criner of the Temple Lung Center.
"He said I definitely needed to get my right upper lobe out," McGoldrick says.
Dr. Criner says the CT screenings recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force are saving lives, by finding lung cancers like McGoldrick s before symptoms show.
"Cancers can be detected at a stage where something can be done to be curative, or, you know, substantial remission in the tumor," says Dr. Criner.
"There's been a decline in lung cancer deaths for the past 4 or 5 years," he adds.
In fact, a new JAMA study of 300,000 cancer patients found that early-stage diagnoses were up nearly five percent, while late-stage diagnoses fell 5 percent.
Dr. Criner says more screenings could save more lives.
"Estimated there are about eight million people that are eligible for lung cancer screening that haven't received it.," Dr. Criner notes.
He thinks some of the impediments are a lack of knowledge about the screening, as well as the lack of a highly-visible champion, as there has been for breast and colon cancers.
It is also a shared decision-making process between patient and doctor, and he suspects some doctors are reluctant to spend the extra time and effort to recruit patients.
New, updated guidelines open the door to getting more Americans screened, by dropping the age to start screenings from 55 to 50 and lowering the smoking history to 20 pack years. That is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day for 20 years.
"That would expand the eligible women who would be candidates for the screening. And as well it would do a better job opening up therapies that's needed for minorities," says Dr. Criner.
At Temple, the Healthy Chest Initiative is also finding other conditions, such as heart disease, or in McGoldrick's case, COPD.
He's getting treatment for that, too.
McGoldrick is grateful he received the CT screening and thinks others should get it, "The testing is very important, I think.'
Dr. Criner urges anyone meeting the new guidelines who smoke now, or has smoked in the past 15 years, to talk to their doctor about the Healthy Chest Initiative.