The Pittsburgh Lung Screening Study
John Davis has lived a lot of life in his 67 years. The Allegheny Township resident is retired now, but his career spanned many diverse roles, including business owner, executive chef, and marketing manager at his local newspaper. He also earned his pilot’s license and, at one point, owned an airplane.
John still keeps busy, even in retirement. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild mushrooms in his spare time. Additionally, he and his wife proudly tend to an extensive vegetable garden on their eight-acre property. To support children in the community, his charity organization frequently hosts fundraising banquets, for which John helps prepare food.
But it was a job John held in high school that would end up saving his life much later. He worked as a research assistant in a hospital lab, which primarily focused on cancer studies. There, John developed a deep respect for the sciences.
When, decades after high school, he noticed an ad for a medical study in the newspaper, John’s scientific curiosity kicked in. The study in question was PLuSS, or the Pittsburgh Lung Screening Study, led by experts at UPMC. The PLuSS study assessed whether low-dose-radiation CT (LDCT) scans of the chest could help identify early-stage lung cancer in high-risk patients. In its early stages, lung cancer is treatable but asymptomatic, so the disease often goes undiagnosed until its later stages.
Having lost both parents to lung cancer, and having been a former smoker, John applied immediately and was accepted into the study. What he didn’t know then is the study later showed that early screenings can reduce mortality from lung cancer by up to 20 percent for high-risk individuals.
Diagnosis and Treatment: Minimally Invasive Robotic Lung Resection
As a PLuSS participant, John underwent a CT scan at UPMC under the expert care of associate director, Lung Cancer Center, David O. Wilson, MD. The scan showed a three-millimeter nodule. To track its progress, Dr. Wilson ordered another LDCT scan in six months. At John’s next screening, the abnormality had grown to nine millimeters, and with continued growth, Dr. Wilson said it was time to operate.
Upon hearing this news, John remained determined.
“You can’t rely 100 percent on anyone. You’ve got to suck it up and take whatever action is necessary yourself,” he says.
In April 2019, John underwent a minimally invasive robotic lung resection to remove the cancer, performed by Inderpal S. Sarkaria, MD, FACS, MBA, a leading expert in the field of robotic surgery.
Fortunately, John recovered quickly from the operation despite losing some weight and experiencing residual neuropathy. He no longer has any evidence of lung cancer.
To celebrate, John says:
“I had my wife bring down two quarts of my homemade sauerkraut for everyone on my care team to take home.”
Prevention Is Key
Now, John says he’s mostly back to normal. He cites PLuSS, and specifically low-dose CT scans, for effectively saving his life. Though his eligibility for PLuSS has ended, he will continue to get regular post-surgical screenings.
“Prevention is key to anything,” he says. “I’m one of these people that if I have something that’s amiss, I act immediately and get it checked out. You’ve got to know what’s going on and do your share to take care of yourself.”