WASHIGNTON, DC (WUSA) - Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths but advocates feel the disease doesn't get the attention it needs to help save more people.
Mary Ellen Kirkbride a 63-year DC resident and lung cancer survivor credited a Lombardi Cancer Center study and CT scan for catching her lung cancer. In 2003 she took part in a trial that compared x-rays and CT scans as screening tools.
"I thought it was a very good thing to do in honor of my dad who died of lung cancer and I also thought it was a good thing to do because it was very difficult to get anyone to do any x-ray or CT if you didn't have symptoms, " Mary Ellen told us.
That is a continuing problem for the normally stigmatized disease. Advocates say there is not enough research or education. And this disease hits more people than just smokers.
Laurie Fenton-Ambrose CEO and President of Lung Cancer Alliance said, "Eight percent of those diagnosed with this disease today, tomorrow and decades to come will be former smokers who actually heeded that public health message and quit as well as those who have never smoked before.
Laurie and the Alliance have been fighting to change perceptions and get more people thinking about early detection. The group also wants to make low dose CT scans more readily available for high risk people.
"The sad reality with lung cancer is that over seventy percent of these diagnoses are late stage it is very late most only living a few months. The ability to move to early intervention means that instead of having just sixteen percent found at an early curable stage we can turn this on its head and we can save ten's of thousands of lives," Laurie told us.
Mary Ellen an eight year lung cancer survivor has been enjoying her second shot at life and taking up swimming and traveling more.
Advocates from all of the country representing Lung Cancer Alliance will go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and get their message out. Their goal is to gain more awareness and funding to help make CT scans become part of regular health care.