Denise's Story: A lung cancer survivor


Screening and biomarkers make a difference for diagnosis and treatment.

November 20, 2023


Denise Lee is a retired attorney, an avid traveler and a proud dog mom. In 2018, while returning home from work, she noticed a billboard featuring a woman who looked like her promoting new screening guidelines for lung cancer. That image stuck with her, so she mentioned it to her primary care doctor. Although she didn't qualify for the test at the time, she became eligible months later.

After her screening, Denise found out that she had lung cancer. As a former smoker, she was afraid. She thought at the time that being diagnosed with lung cancer equaled death. However, that is no longer the case for all patients, because of new screening and treatment options. To follow Denise's journey, watch the three videos below.

Screening and diagnosis of lung cancer




In the United States, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women.1 There are an estimated 238,000 new cases of lung cancer in 2023.2 Lung cancer is most frequently diagnosed in people 65 to 74 years old.3 The number of people who die from lung cancer is dropping4 likely because of decreased smoking rates and advances in early detection and treatment. Lung cancer is often detected in later stages of disease as many people don’t display symptoms until the disease has progressed.

The USPSTF recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults 50 to 80 years old who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. If the LDCT and other tests indicate cancer, a biopsy is generally performed to get more information to understand which type of cancer is in the lung.

Biomarkers and companion diagnostics 




After patients are diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, medical guidelines recommend testing for certain biomarkers, such as PDL-1, EGFR, ALK, for early stage non-small cell lung cancer and others, to determine if they are candidates for therapies that target their specific kind of lung cancer. Tests that can recognize biomarkers and are approved to work with therapies that focus on specific types of cancer are called companion diagnostics. There are several targeted therapies that can be used for patients like Denise who test positive for PD-L1.

Hope for lung cancer




There is reason for hope. Lung cancer is no longer a fatal condition for all people and research continues to help people extend their lives and survive cancer.  There is growing evidence that mentoring programs for people with cancer improves their lives.  


  1. Last accessed Nov. 10, 2023. 
  2. SEER Lung and Bronchus Cancer Facts, 2023
  3. SEER Lung and Bronchus Cancer Facts 22 2016-2020
  4. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020