Early lung cancer screening study saving lives

two women standing side by side in a garden
Top: FSH Respiratory Physician Annette McWilliams and Project Manager Jacqueline Logan; Bottom: Leonie Bamford
November 29, 2021

68-year-old Leonie Bamford is counting her lucky stars she was recruited four years ago to participate in an international lung cancer screening study by Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH). At the time Leonie was a smoker and her GP suggested the trial.

With lung cancer the largest cause of cancer death and the fourth largest cause of all deaths for Australian women and men, the need for early detection is critical. At the time of diagnosis most patients are in advanced stages of the disease with a five-year survival rate of under 20 percent.

The International LungScreen Trial (ILST) evaluates the best method to enrol and manage participants in a lung cancer screening program with low dose chest CT. In 2017, the ILST began with five centres in Australia and international collaborators in Canada, Hong Kong, England and Spain.

Western Australian participants were recruited from the community and attended both FSH and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital for their low dose CT in this collaborative study led by FSH Respiratory Physician Annette McWilliams and Project Manager Jacqueline Logan.

lady standing by a tableLeonie was one of those participants and just 18-months into the study, a low dose CT scan showed a small lump in the lower right lobe of her lung.

For a period, the team monitored the lump and then in May 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leonie underwent a biopsy procedure.

“During the biopsy, the lump was confirmed to be cancer, so they removed it right there and then,” Leonie said.

“It was a really scary time with COVID-19 and being told I had cancer, but I was so lucky it was caught early.”

Leonie’s story is just one of the 21 Western Australian participants so far who have been diagnosed with early lung cancer as part of the study at FSH. 

FSH Respiratory Physician Annette McWilliams said 86 per cent of participants found to have lung cancer as part of the study have been able to undergo curative surgery.

“It is an excellent result for the participants, the study and the Western Australian community who through this trial, are able to access a greater level of potentially life-saving screening.

“The trial brought together teams from across SMHS including radiology and research departments, and I’m proud we’ve been able to offer this option to patients at FSH,” Annette said.

“As a clinician researcher, this type of support for translational work is crucial.”

Leonie said Annette and the whole team involved in the study at FSH were fantastic, and it has changed her life.

She now leads a healthier lifestyle, has quit smoking and exercises regularly to keep her lungs strong.

“My lung still hasn’t healed properly, there is some scarring, but life is just so marvellous,” Leonie said.

“My husband who has been smoking since he was nine has even quit for me – how romantic is that?”

This Lung Cancer Awareness Month Leonie said the best advice she can give to people is to stop smoking.

“It just isn’t worth it, and it isn’t good for you, you need to keep yourself healthy for you and for your loved ones.”

Since the commencement of the ILST study in 2017, further international research results have confirmed that lung cancer screening with low dose chest CT saves lives.

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