POLLOCKSVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. CarolinaEast Health System is doing its part to keep the people they serve safe in November and year-round.

According to the Lung Cancer Association, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. But there is hope.

“Lung cancer if it’s caught early, you can be saved,” said Donna Russell, radiology manager for CarolinaEast Internal Medicine in Pollocksville. “Depending on the type and treatment it extends your life by 5 to 7 years at least.”

Saving lives is why Russell spearheaded CarolinaEast’s low-dose CT lung cancer screening program at the Pollocksville location.

“My daddy died of lung cancer and that was the catalyst for me to even look or hear about this,” Russell said. “When I heard about a program like this, it was a few years after he died and it was a no-brainer for me.”

Seven years later and they now have more than 2,000 people in the annual program.

“Our statistics are running about two to 2.5 percent on lung cancer, initially it started out over three percent which is much higher than the national average,” Russell said. “Patients come in, lay down on the table, they take two breath holds and they go home. We are getting 2,000 images from those 10 minutes they are here.”

A radiologist and computer-automated detection system look at those images.

“It picks up things that may not be picked up with the human eye,” she said. “We are very unique with that when we started we were the second one in the country to have this particular program that combines CAD with the patient tracking.”

If they find anything, they’ll refer them to the appropriate people.

“The patient is sent back to primary care and primary care would then forward them to their pulmonologist or cardiovascular surgeon,” Russell explained. “They may have to do a more dedicated CT scan, maybe an MRI. Then depending on the type of cancer, they may have surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and fortunately, CarolinaEast has all of those services.”

Russell wants people to be aware of lung cancer, especially this month in Eastern North Carolina.

“We’re in the tobacco belt,” she said. “All of my family grew up on tobacco farms, we all worked in tobacco and I knew a lot of people who died from lung cancer because of it. Everybody knows breast cancer, everyone should know about lung cancer, particularly in this part of the world.”

To be included in the program you must be referred by a doctor, be between the age of 50 and 77, have no signs of lung cancer, be a current smoker or one who has quit within the last 15 years and have a history of smoking at least 30 packs of cigarettes per year.

For more information on resources at CarolinaEast, visit their website.