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Omaha Sen. Bob Krist's father died of lung cancer in 2004, less than two years after it was diagnosed.

The cancer -- from asbestos exposure as an electrician and Navy veteran -- was diagnosed late, as are many lung cancers, Krist said.

Lung cancer is a death sentence if detected late.

But it can be treated if detected early enough, Krist said. In fact, 92 percent of those with early-stage lung cancer are alive after five years.

So Krist is proposing Nebraska spend about $650,000 for research on a simple test using sputum, mucus from the respiratory tract, that might be useful as an early and inexpensive screening device.

About 500 older military veterans who are former or current smokers would become volunteers in the study, conducted by the Eppley Cancer Center, under Krist's bill (LB987).

The $650,000 would come from the state's $310 million health care cash fund, primarily money from tobacco companies under a federal settlement. That money pays for a number of initiatives, including community programs for Nebraskans with developmental disabilities and other cancer research efforts.

But Krist said he couldn't think of a better reason to spend tobacco money than to fight cancer.

Like most solid tumors, lung cancer is curable when detected at an early stage, said Dr. Rudy Lackner of the Eppley Cancer Center, which is part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

But only 15 percent of lung cancers are detected at this stage because there isn't an inexpensive and effective detection tool.

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Veterans will be used in the trial because they are 25 percent more likely to develop lung cancer, Lackner said. They were more likely to be exposed to environmental risks, like asbestos, and are also more likely to have smoked.

In fact, 30 percent of the current armed forces are smokers, said John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs. His agency supports the bill and will work with researchers to find study volunteers.

The five-year study will seek veterans older than 50 who had a 20-year pack history of smoking, the equivalent of a pack a day for 20 years, Lackner said.

The research is part of a number of studies being done on a lung cancer-screening tool developed by Biomoda Inc., a New Mexico firm.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or


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