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Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine

Merry-Lynn McDonaldDevika Das, M.D. and Joseph Thachuthara-George, M.D.

In Alabama, the rate of lung cancer cases is significantly higher than the national rate. Southern veterans often come into the program’s clinic with unique environmental and occupational exposures. The Lung Cancer Screening (LCS) Program aims to improve lung cancer screening among Veterans, whose cancer often goes undetected until later stages, in an effort to connect them to clinical trials. Early discovery is essential, as it can increase a patient’s five-year survival rate to nearly 80%.

In 2021, Dr. Devika Das, BVAMC Section Chief Hematology/Oncology, and Dr. Mark Dransfield, Director of the UAB Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, received a $1.3 million grant to develop a Lung Precision Oncology Program at the Birmingham VA Health Care System. The LCS program is now being piloted at the Birmingham VA Women's Clinic and will slowly expand to other BVAHCS Clinics.

“This is team science at its best,” Dr. Das says. “Everyday, we learn something.” This program is centered around a structured, nurse-driven lung cancer screening, offered not only in Birmingham, but in nearby Tuscaloosa. To serve patients across the Southeast, the LCS program sees patients from Mississippi in Tuscaloosa clinic locations before referring them to UAB.

Potential patients are examined by interventional pulmonology specialist Joseph Thachuthara-George, M.D., whose advanced bronchoscopy skills and latest technology expedite patients to treatment. Dr. Thachuthara-George began his work with the LCS in December of 2021.

“Once a suspected lesion is noted on screening CT, we perform further evaluation which includes risk stratification of the nodules as well as diagnostic and staging procedures,” Dr. Thachuthara-George says. “We have increased the number of clinics and have doubled the number of patients receiving advanced procedures to keep up with the increase in lung cancer screening,” he continues.

The LCS program has recently increased the scope of its screening and testing efforts, with recent supplemental funding used to start a mobile screening program in Anniston along with clinical trials to predict early risk for lung cancer through less invasive methods like nasal swabs.

To learn more about the LCS program, contact program coordinator Sasha Smith BSN, RN, at (205) 933-8101 (ext. 334199) or sasha.smith@va.gov.