Alternative to surgery for some lung cancer patients

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Joyce Buckner has smoked for nearly half a century.

"It's a very, very hard habit to break 'cause occasionally, I still have a cigarette," says Joyce.

That's even after surviving an early stage lung cancer fifteen years ago. And in 2010, another one was found as a result of regular screening with CT scans.

The second time, chronic lung disease meant Joyce wasn't healthy enough to have surgery to remove the tumor. She was referred to Dr. David Schomas of Saint Luke's Hospital who offered an alternative.

Joyce received high dose radiation every other day. There were just five treatments in all.

"It's non-invasive so there's not a lot of side effects. There's no hospitalization required or anesthesia," says Dr. Schomas.

"No sickness whatsoever. That surprised me," says Joyce.

She was thrilled when she saw her first CT scan after treatment. The tumor -- so visible before -- was no longer there.

"In about a third of our patients, the tumor just sort of vanishes," says Dr. Schomas.

And he says the radiation therapy can stall cancer progression in some others. He recently presented research on about 80 patients. After two years, cancer hadn't progressed in two thirds of them.

Joyce is now three years out.

"It's still gone. Still gone. So I'm a fortunate one," she says.

Joyce is fortunate to survive lung cancer twice and without even having surgery the second time.

New guidelines from the American Cancer Society for lung cancer screening say long-time heavy smokers or former ones ages 55 to 74 should talk to their doctors about CT screening. The benefits aren't as clear as doctors would like, and there are risks with screening.

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