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February 2011 Issue

Joann Behm
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Lifelong Smoker Encourages Others to 'Snuff the Habit'

By Amanda Harper
Published February 2011

While flipping through the newspaper one day, Joann Behm saw a story about a clinical trial being conducted at the UC College of Medicine that tests a new way of screening lung cancer in people at high risk for the disease.

Making the call to enroll was a no-brainer for her. She had been smoking cigarettes since she was 14.

"I saw the clinical trial as a potential benefit to me. They were simply performing scans to look for early warning signs of lung cancer. If I didn’t want to proceed, I didn’t have to. Once I met the treatment team, I felt very confident and realized that if I had lung cancer this would help me find it sooner,” says Behm.

Still a smoker then, Behm—along with about 130 other heavy smokers over 50 who had smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years—agreed to participate in the trial.

Participants completed a questionnaire about their smoking habits and medical history then underwent annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans for five years to screen for signs of lung cancer.

The goal of the study was to determine if lung cancer screening could be done effectively among a high-risk population living in a geographic area with rates of histoplasmosis three times higher than the national average. Histoplasmosis causes benign lung nodules that can look like lung cancer.

Within months, Behm was diagnosed with lung cancer. UC Health surgeons removed the upper left lobe of her lung. Fortunately, the cancer was caught so early that no additional therapy was needed.

"I knew the day before surgery that I would have one last cigarette and never smoke again,” recalls Behm.

"I was very fortunate to find the cancer early as well as be able to quit so easily. I know it’s not like that for many people who try to quit smoking.”

She says her son—also a smoker—became a true anti-smoking convert after her diagnosis. Now they both encourage everyone they know to snuff the smoking habit for good or avoid picking up the habit at all.

"I’m able to enjoy my life to the fullest,” says Behm, now 79. She attends water aerobics classes three times a week and is an active volunteer with the Salvation Army’s Rehabilitation Center in Norwood.

Results from the UC lung cancer screening trial were recently published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. Led by Sandra Starnes, MD, the trial concluded that CT scans are an effective lung cancer screening tool for a high-risk patient population, if done with a strict clinical protocol in place and with the input of a multidisciplinary care team.

"Despite having a 60 percent nodule rate, we were able to avoid doing benign biopsies and not miss any lung cancer diagnoses if the protocol was strictly followed. No one was diagnosed at a stage where the lung tumor could not be surgically removed,” says Starnes, director of thoracic surgery at the UC College of Medicine and a surgeon with UC Health.

UC Health’s multidisciplinary thoracic cancer team—made up of pulmonologists, radiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, gastroenterologists, respiratory therapists, experienced oncology nurses and fellowship-trained surgeons—specializes in treating the entire range of cancers affecting the chest cavity.

UC Health’s thoracic surgery team is the only one in the Tristate offering rib-sparing video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) procedures. The technique requires only a few small incisions in the abdomen and chest to insert the minimally invasive tools used to operate.

Want to Quit Smoking? The pharmacist-assisted Win by Quitting smoking cessation program, offers an individualized, 12-week program to help smokers snuff out the habit for good. Appointments are available on Mondays and Thursdays at the UC Health Barrett Cancer Center, located at 234 Goodman St.

To schedule an appointment or for more information, call (513) 585-QUIT (7848). Appointments are free to all individuals. The program is supported by UC and UC Health University Hospital.

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