May Manghise practices yoga every morning before coffee. She takes long walks with friends four times a week near her home in Northern Westchester, loves to swim, listen to music and go out dancing. At 75 years old, May is happy, active and fulfilled. But she also knows that her life could be much different.
May smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for decades. While she can’t change the past, she is doing her best to create a happy and healthy future. May quit smoking more than 10 years ago and has yearly cancer scans as part of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Northwell Health, Westchester. The program provides quick and easy low-dose CT scans to those who qualify, described as “two minutes that can save your life” by Linda Caffrey, program coordinator and family nurse practitioner.
Not long ago, the standard check for lung cancer involved a chest X-ray. In 2011, a large study determined that a low-dose radiation CT scan is actually better at detecting suspicious nodules, or abnormal growths, in the lungs. This improved diagnostic tool helps find cancers as early as possible when they can be most successfully treated.
Based on that discovery, the United States Preventative Task Force established new recommendations for lung cancer screening, making the more effective CT scan available to those at risk. Initially, patients aged 55 to 80 years old with a 30-year smoking history were eligible for the federal Lung Cancer Screening program, meaning most insurance providers would cover the screening. In March of 2021, those nationwide recommendations were broadened to reach even more people, including smokers aged 50 to 80 who had smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for ten years. Meanwhile, long-term smokers who have quit within the past 15 years still qualify. It’s important to note that many insurance providers are in the process of updating their coverage to incorporate these new eligibility guidelines.
To provide surrounding communities with this state-of-the-art diagnostic tool, Northwell Health, Westchester established its Lung Cancer Screening Program in compliance with these federal guidelines, with screening sites at both Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow and Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco. Caffrey joined the program last year to streamline the application process, making sure eligible people don’t miss out. Caffrey notes that eligible patients should receive the quick and easy screening annually. The test is non-invasive and involves much less radiation than traditional chest CT scans. If a suspicious nodule is found, Caffrey adds, you can feel confident in the expert care at Northwell Health, Westchester. “Working collaboratively and drawing on the knowledge of experts throughout Northwell Health, the largest health system in the state, our cancer team creates a unique treatment plan tailored to the individual needs of each patient.”
But the scan, despite its exponentially better diagnostic ability, can only save lives if people have it. Unfortunately, Caffrey admits, the percentage of eligible participants who sign up remains low. “Only about five percent of people who qualify actually undergo screening nationwide.” That’s because people are anxious. As smokers, they may blame themselves for causing their own health problems. But we want to break down these barriers.” When it is found early, lung cancer has a cure rate of up to 92 percent. Says Caffrey: “We screen for colon, breast and prostate cancers, why not for lung cancer too?”
May didn’t hesitate when her primary care physician from Northwell Health Physician Partners, Dr. Rajneesh Kaur Uppal, suggested the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Northern Westchester Hospital. May started smoking as a young woman in the Bronx, where she lived until moving to Westchester to start a family. “Everybody smoked back then,” she says. “It was normal.” Although May really enjoyed “lighting up a cigarette,” she could not ignore the negative effects of smoking on her life. Her own father, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer at age 60. “My kids and my doctors really hated my smoking,” she says. “They told me to quit all the time.”
At age 62, May was finally ready to stop. “I told myself that if I kept smoking, I was going to get cancer,” she says. She admits the process was difficult, but after a few false starts and relapses, “I vowed to never put another cigarette in my mouth, and I didn’t back down.”
May has been part of the Lung Cancer Screening Program for three years and her scans have shown no evidence of cancer. “Sure, I feel a bit anxious before the test,” she says, “but it’s better to know sooner than later, and to avoid the worst of a potential lung cancer diagnosis.” Plus, it’s so easy, she adds. “It only takes two minutes—you just lay there and let the machine do its work,” she says with a laugh.
Not one to preach, May does encourage friends to give up cigarettes. “Life is too precious to waste on smoking,” she says. Now a proud grandmother of four, May wants to be as healthy as possible for as long as she can. “You don’t want to get sick, you don’t want to need supplemental oxygen. You want to be able to breathe, to enjoy life!”
To learn more about the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Northwell Health, Westchester, call
While quitting smoking is not a prerequisite for eligibility for the Lung Cancer Screening Program, patients are encouraged to do so. We’ll help you quit. Visit NWHsmokingcessation.eventbrite.com to learn more.