Karen vs. lung cancer: Karen wins

After 50 years of smoking, a 5-second scan saved Karen’s life.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 158,000 Americans will die from lung cancer in 2016. Karen Farquhar is not one of them.

A low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan helped doctors discover her lung cancer at Stage IA – long before it could be detected by a chest x-ray or physical exam.


Karen, a bartender, smoked cigarettes for some 50 years. At age 70, she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and frequent bouts of bronchitis.

“I would get serious bronchitis two to three times a year,” says Karen. “Each time, the coughing and congestion would last up to a month. It was just my normal.”

Her pulmonologist, William Klein, M.D., was concerned about Karen’s increased risk for lung cancer. He referred her to the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Orange Coast Medical Center. The program is designed to detect lung cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage.

Founded in 2012, the program utilizes low-dose CT scans for patients like Karen who meet certain risk-factor requirements:

  • Adults, ages 55 to 77
  • Who have smoked one pack per day for 30 years
  • Who currently smoke or quit in the last 15 years

The low-dose CT scan is pain-free, and provides physicians with detailed images of the lungs. The three-dimensional CT scans can uncover lung nodules as small as a period at the end of a sentence, arming physicians with the information needed to see the subtle changes that may indicate lung cancer.

“The scan takes five seconds, but what we see – or don’t see – is invaluable,” says Richard Wasley, M.D., medical director of imaging at Orange Coast Medical Center. “Lung cancer screening through low-dose CT is a prevention tool that saves lives every year.”


Each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Orange Coast Medical Center is one of only four centers in Orange County, and is one of only 21 centers in California to be recognized as a Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance.

Karen had her first screening in late 2014. There was no need for alarm.

“On these scans, we’re looking for lung nodules, or small masses, on the lungs,” explains Dr. Wasley. “Lung nodules are fairly common, and most are benign, or non-cancerous. About 25-to-30 percent of the time, we may have to do additional imaging and sometimes even a biopsy. On average, about in one of every 300 screens, we find cancer.”

When her next screening in 2015 showed a new nodule, Dr. Klein ordered a biopsy. Interventional radiologist Amir Ronaghi, M.D., used a local anesthetic to obtain the tissue sample for testing. When the results came back, Karen learned the shocking news: the nodule was malignant and she had lung cancer. Luckily, the cancer was isolated and hadn’t spread to other organs or the lymph nodes.

Karen underwent minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery to remove the nodules. Through just five one-inch incisions, a tiny video camera and miniature tools were used to remove the nodules with great precision and accuracy. Karen spent eight days in the hospital and six weeks recovering at home. Soon after, she was back at work, enjoying all the things she loved.

“I was very fortunate,” says Karen. “If not for the early detection, I may have died.”

To schedule a CT lung screening, please call our dedicated nurse navigator at 714-378-7650.