Vietnam Veteran Bobby Richardson can attest to the effectiveness of early screening for lung cancer. Last year, he found out that he had stage 1 lung cancer when he took part in a nationwide VA program to boost the number of Veterans screened for lung cancer. He then got treatment through a VA clinical trial.

The 69-year-old resident of Bloomfield, Indiana, says his VA doctor recommended screening for lung cancer based on his family history. Several aunts had died from cancer and Richardson had just lost his brother to advanced lung cancer. Following his own diagnosis, his sister was diagnosed with a different form of cancer.

Brother’s cancer diagnosed after switching to VA care

“My brother didn’t have any symptoms up until the last year before he found out he had lung cancer,” Richardson said. “He kept complaining that something was wrong. His doctor said, ‘You are just getting emphysema.'” It wasn’t until Richardson’s brother switched his care to VA that he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Richardson, who drives a lumber truck for a living, says he was happy to participate in the screening program, the VA Partnership to increase Access to Lung Screening, or VA-PALS.

“I was glad to do it because cancer runs in my family,” he said. “That way I didn’t have to worry about it.”

Fortunately, his doctors caught his cancer early when it was still treatable.

Pictured above, pulmonary oncologist Dr. Catherine R. Sears meets with Richardson.

The study through which Richardson subsequently got treated is the VA Lung Cancer Surgery Or Stereotactic Radiotherapy (VALOR) clinical trial. The VA-sponsored study compares two treatments for lung cancer – surgery vs. targeted radiation.

Investigators hope to find out which treatment results in a better five-year survival rate for stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer.

“I would definitely recommend other Veterans get screened.”

Study locations include these VA medical centers: Long Beach, California; Bay Pines, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Hines, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Durham, North Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. Investigators aim to enroll 670 participants.

Average age of diagnosis for lung cancer about 70

Historically, surgery to remove cancerous tissue has been the standard for treatment of stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer. However, surgery can be physically taxing for some patients, especially those who are elderly. Given that the average age of diagnosis for lung cancer is about 70, advanced age can be a significant factor in patient survival.

A newer FDA-approved treatment called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) delivers high-dose X-rays to cancer cells. In frail or elderly patients, the therapy is easier to tolerate than surgery.

Both surgery and SBRT can cure stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer. But no large studies have compared the effectiveness of these two therapies in patients who are healthy enough to get surgery. VA researchers aim to collect data that will help physicians choose the most effective treatment for each patient.

Tailored options for patients

Dr. Drew Moghanaki, radiation oncologist and co-chair for the VALOR study, believes that providing more options for patients with lung cancer is critical. “If we had data that showed that surgery or radiation therapy was better for a given patient, then we would be able to use safety and other criteria to decide which treatment to give,” he said. “We would have more options to better match each patient to the optimal treatment.”

One year after treatment, Richardson is cancer-free. He will undergo follow-up care in VA for five years. He says he’s one of the lucky ones.

“My experience was pretty positive because my doctors cured me,” Richardson said. “The thing of it was, I never felt sick, never felt bad. I didn’t even know I had cancer until they told me. I would definitely recommend that other Veterans get screened.”


Erica Sprey is a writer/editor for VA Research Communications. Photos by Mark Turney, a public affairs officer for the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.

Sixteen medical workers pause for a photoMeet the amazing crew of St. Cloud VA's Building 50, 1st Floor
Pregnant woman embracing her stomachBlack women more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

15 Comments

  1. nathan j. jackson April 15, 2021 at 8:33 am

    You had me for a minute. This fictional stuff is a waste. A doctor did something…lol…And it worked!!! bullsht. early detection is a myth, complete crap .. You people games games

  2. Raymond Cote April 14, 2021 at 9:05 pm

    Hello, I have been under a doctors care for emphysema for over three years and I’m kinda concerned about my health and would like to be screened for lung cancer.
    Ray Cote

  3. Gerald Ross Sullivan April 14, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    I wason a destroyer 1962-65 that had just been through a FRAM 11 revamp. All kinds of asbestos in the air. Breathed that for 2 1/2 yrs. couple yrs later as civilian, was in hospital for days for asthma or pneumonia. Later had a severe attack again and was treated because granules in bottom of left lung. Doctors almost always ask me if I smoked. Never. My exRAYS always show those granules and now both my lungs have collapsed at bottom. I have asked for a biopsy just to make sure this is not cancer but they say it’s too invasive for me at 76. I don’t care if I get infected or even die. I have been a minister for over 50 years and at peace with God, in fact I am a “friend of HIS. My father, a Navy hero, died of asbestosis even though VA said he didn’t have it. AH, but an autopsy revealed he was full of the stuff. He was a boiler tender. He wrapped pipes with asbestos. C’mon guys, now they’re doing it to me. I was told for fifty years that I didn’t have any benefits. Had to be retired. so 50 years later, I finally got someone to tell me I had medical. I filed for disabilities, 4 of them denied/ appealed. Denied. I am an “old man”. Let him die,” don’t you know.” Asbestosis not a fun disease. You suffocate to death. I am getting close. I wake up because I can’t breathe, throw my C-PAP mask off, and try to get some air into my lungs. Lungs are “burning” and my body is screaming for oxygen. I try to get some oxygen from VA to help at night, C-PAP has fitting for that, but PC tells me I don’t meet the criteria. Also tells me she thinks I am “faking it” I may also have a rare disease, MG or LEMS. I have all the symptoms but it has taken 2 1/2 years to finally get to a neurologist. He called my ex PCand she told him it’s “old age” and I had to beg him to run special tests. I have more anxiety now than I was spying on Russia during the “Cuban Crisis” when. the President was just hours away from “pressing the button. We were surrounded by two destroyers, a cruiser and jets trying to see how close they could get. Destroyer pulled in front of us and two crew members carefully, slowly in the sub zero winter storm, dragged 55-gallon cans to the stern and “dumped” garbage to show how Russia felt about our presence And now I have to put up with all this “garbage” at the VA and I don’t mean “only two 55 gallons” worth. I have to stop now, my PTSD is showing, Oh NO!! That can’t be so because I don’t have any disability even though they are treating me for it!!

  4. Erica April 14, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you for your comments and interest.

    If you have questions on screening for lung cancer, please reach out to your primary care physician/team or patient advocate at your local VA medical center.

    https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/your-care-team/

  5. Thomas Drozdowski April 13, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    I was aboard an aircraft carrier, 1974 – 1975 when a horrific collision occurred. Fires flooded passageways and I was trapped breathing in burning metal smoke and asbestos to the point that my lungs where compromised. Prior to this we were also aboard in the ship yards and would wake up in the morning covered in toxic dust accumulated even around our noses. After my discharge my doctor verified that I had numerous particles visible by x-ray which I also viewed. For years I fought with asthma. Much was covered up about this including broken arrow during the first of five days of said collision. In the past it was brought to my attention that some vets where denied compensation for their cancers linked to exposer. I live in Michigan. Where do I receive this screening that could save my life especially since I have had symptoms? It is always a problem even getting treatment at VA most of the time.

  6. Mark April 13, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    it seems the article suggests that program is only offered so far at the listed locations:

    Study locations include these VA medical centers: Long Beach, California; Bay Pines, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Hines, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Durham, North Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. Investigators aim to enroll 670 participants.

  7. DEMETRIOS Demetrios WRIGHT April 13, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    I would like to know how to apply for early lung cancer screening. I was exposed to burn pits during the Iraq War and would like a screening for cancer.

  8. Ray Anthony Slayton April 13, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    Medical procedures like these should be available for every Veteran. Veterans like myself that chose to live in the Philippines are denied most benefits if they live outside the United States, while the VA claims to care for all Veterans those who live outside CONUS are not given the care those living in the US gets. For example, I got my medication for high blood pressure from the VA every month but once I moved to the Philippines I was told I had to pay for it on the local economy because I’m not service connected for high blood pressure, same with medication for ED and migraines. Those are expenses I would receive if I was living in the states. It’s a damn shame that VA gets away with not fully covering Veterans just because they chose to live in a foreign country even though they have a fully staffed clinic and pharmacy in Manila.

  9. Darryl Woodall Sr April 13, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    Hello I am a Retired Navy Veteran, I would like to take some of the screening, I am not a Vietnam Vet, I severed in the Navy from 1982 to 2002, I was a Engineering my whole Navy Career. so if you have any screening for me please let me know. “ Think you

  10. Paul Brandenburg April 13, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    I’d heard about the program, but I thought since I was a 54 year smoker I’d be put on a list somewhere. However, this did not happen. I’m Located about 5 miles from the Alvin C. York facility in Murfreesboro, TN. In Oct 2012 I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer while in Knoxville TN, Since the cancer was fully contained in the bladder, they simply removed my bladder and two nodes to verify no cancer had escaped. A close friend of mine who also had bladder cancer removed, after a long struggle for coughing before they finally found he had stage for bladder cancer in his lung. They found it with a PET scan. I’ve not taken any of the covid-19 vaccines, I’ve got Macular Degeneration, diabetes, Chronic Kidney Disease, Diverticulitis, and several other minor problems, plus I’m 82. Oh, I’m allergic to Contrast die. Would I be eligible for the Cancer testing? sincerely, Retired M.Sgt. Paul Brandenburg

  11. Richard Hardin April 13, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    Try and private message your VA provider through myhealthevet

  12. Bobbi April 13, 2021 at 4:03 pm
  13. Ronald R. House April 13, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Danyale, I to am trying to find out how to apply for this screening. It seems as if the VA is afraid to post a program for application that they leave veterans like you and I with no place to ask questions. If you find a program please tell me.

    • P Renz April 13, 2021 at 5:39 pm

      These are the VA Medical Centers where the studies
      are taking place; I found the information at the
      beginning of this article.

      Long Beach, California;
      Bay Pines, Florida;
      Atlanta, Georgia;
      Hines, Illinois;
      Indianapolis, Indiana;
      Minneapolis, Minnesota;
      Durham, North Carolina;
      Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
      Houston, Texas;
      and Richmond, Virginia.
      Investigators aim to enroll 670 participants

      It’s only a study at this point, and that is why it’s not
      at every VA facility. You might ask your VA Primary
      Care Physician if he/she has information on it. You
      can also look up Research Studies online. This is
      my VA page on research studies: https://www.sandiego.va.gov/studies.asp
      I found it simply by typing VA research studies into
      my search engine.

      I hope one of the above VA Medical Centers is near
      your home, but if not, please consider talking to your
      PCP about your concerns.

  14. Danyale Bethea April 13, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    I was told by the SC Dorn VA that this service was not available for the VA. Can someone please confirm whether or not this service is offered?

    Thank you,
    Danyale

Comments are closed.