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Das leads team at Birmingham VA to increase lung cancer screening among veterans

Dr. Devika Das

Thanks to the efforts of Devika Das, M.D., and her team, lung cancer screening among veterans in Birmingham rose to 18.5 percent, well above the national six percent average. An expansion of an existing screening program used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, her program began as a pilot in late 2021 before beginning a full year of testing in 2022. The results were impressive; despite being new to the other participating cities in the same Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN), including Charleston and Atlanta, Birmingham’s results quickly surpassed them.

“I think it is phenomenal that we were able to reach that rate in just one year, and we continue to expand,” says Das.

Das, an associate scientist at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate professor in the Division of Hematology & Oncology in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine, attributes the success of the program to the nuanced approach her team took.

“I think it’s really the structured nature of our screenings,” she said. “We track numbers; we have whole teams. It’s really a group effort.” She added that there’s still much work to be done; future plans for the program include introducing a standalone mobile unit that is active in Alabama’s northern counties, an addition which could make lung cancer screening in rural and low-resource communities more readily accessible and introducing a tobacco cessation element to the program to lower Alabama’s 19 percent smoking rate.

Das is optimistic for the future based on the progress so far. “I think one of the biggest takeaways is that this can be done,” she said. “Oftentimes, what we hear is this is very complex because there are multiple services involved, physicians are busy and it’s hard to have all these discussions; but when you do this in a multidisciplinary manner, you can make this happen.”

—Mackenzie Sexton

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