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Dr. Cerrone and Gregory E  stand together, smile.

Gregory E. smoked cigarettes for four decades. The 74-year-old said he gave them up for three months in 1994, until he happened upon a full pack of Marlboro Lights lying on the Atlantic City boardwalk. It would be another 12 years before he went cold turkey.

Three years ago, Gregory became one of the first patients to take part in Atlantic Health System Lung Cancer Screening Program for people at high risk for developing lung cancer. The population is defined as adults ages 50 to 80 who’ve smoked at least a pack a day on average over 20 years. Former heavy smokers who quit within the past 15 years are also eligible.

Gregory’s pulmonologist, Federico Cerrone, MD, urged him to have the low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan, which can catch cancer early.

“Lung cancer can be cured when it’s caught early. Annual screenings save lives,” said Dr. Cerrone, the program’s medical director. Screening is crucial because “most people with lung cancer aren’t symptomatic until it has spread.”

Of the more than 200 LDCT scans Atlantic Health System conducts monthly, about 2% detect small malignant tumors that can be removed by surgery. “That’s 40 patients cured in a given year,” Dr. Cerrone said. Most people who are screened have no growths, he noted. The scan takes one minute, and the cost is covered by health insurance.

Gregory said he started smoking a few cigarettes a day as an 18-year-old providing security at Naval operations during the Vietnam War. His smoking increased to a pack a day when he was 21. Evelyn, who retired after 38 years with the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority, kicked the habit in 2006 at his daughter’s insistence.

The widower had lost both his parents to cancer, his mother of lung cancer. Having the LDCT annually at the Overlook Medical Center screening site in Summit “gives me peace of mind,” Gregory said. “So far, I’ve been clean: no cancer!” 

Call to schedule an low-dose computed tomography appointment at one of several screening locations. A prescription from a physician is required.

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