Avera Medical Minute: One woman's journey with lung cancer

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. Even more staggering, more than 150,000 people will die from this disease.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and Avera doctors are working to help diagnose cases of lung cancer earlier.

Deb Voigt was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. She knew something was wrong when she was in pain throughout her entire body.

"My whole body, you know, now I'm at the point where I can differentiate pain, but my whole body hurt," she said. "My back hurt. Everything hurt, fatigued to the max."

That's where Dr. Heidi McKean and her team at the Avera Cancer Insititute stepped in, Dr. McKean says Deb studied the cancer and quickly learned her cancer the targeted amount of PDL1.

"That has come to the forefront because that is what we hoped to find in patients who would be candidates for immunotherapy," she said.

Immunotherapy is a familiar term these days. You may have seen ads on television. Immunotherapy releases your immune system to go and attack the cancer. Patients need a targeted percentage of PDL1, a protein cell found in your body. To receive the treatments, patients require at least 50% to use these types of drugs; Deb had 95%.

"95% of my cancer had PLD1 which I tell my kids it's like a Halloween mask that the cancer cells put on, so they look like the regular," Voigt said. "And so, you're body's immunities don't attack it."

"Lung cancer is a huge problem, and we know it," Dr. Heidi McKean, Avera Cancer Institute Medical Oncology, said. "It's responsible for more cancer deaths than prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer gets a lot of attention, a lot of press, but actually in women lung cancer is responsible for more cancer deaths than twice as much as breast cancer, actually."

If you have a new nagging cough that won't go away, chest pain or coughing up blood, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. For Deb treatment has been working, her PET scans now show a scar area where her cancer was.

"She's responded very nicely to the point where her PET scan now shows a scar area in that left upper chest, and she's got great control of her cancer that we hope she can use for a long time," Dr. McKean said.

Thursday, November 8th, is the 10th Annual Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Event. The event honors and supports those who have been impacted by lung cancer. The event starts at 5:30 and will be held at the Prairie Center in Sioux Falls.

For more information, you can visit avera.org or call 1-877-At-Avera.