NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A major way to improve chances of surviving the number one cancer killer in the United States is now free.

Beating lung cancer comes down to early detection with a fast and easy lung scan, reports CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez.

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For a long time, many doctors thought that lung cancer was so deadly that catching it early would not make a difference.

Studies proved that early lung cancer detection does save lives, but screening costs money and is inconvenient… that was, until now.

A kind of non-descript tractor-trailer parked in the Metrotech courtyard in Downtown Brooklyn contains some life-saving technology: A hi-speed, low dose CT lung scanner designed to screen for early signs.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer, more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined,” Dr. Bradley Pua of the Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Pua is the chief physician with the center for the early detection of cancer.

He explained a major reason lung cancer is so deadly is that by the time people have enough symptoms to go to the doctor, the cancer is already advanced and spread. The mobile unit could change all that.

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“If we find small nodules we can give therapy that increases survival to 75% to 90%,” he said.

This free screening is remarkably quick and easy, as Edgar Laws found. A long-time smoker, he came in to find out if that’s damaged his lungs. You don’t have to get undressed, the radiation dose is about that of a mammogram and takes less than five minutes.

“It was really simple,” said Laws.

New York real estate developer Bruce Ratner, the founder of the Center for the Early Detection of Cancer, is funding the free screenings so that other families don’t have to lose loved ones the way he lost a brother a few years ago.

“My goal is to scan NYC! It’s a pilot project but if it works, and I think it will, this will save lives,” he said.

Screening is being offered to people 50 to 80 years of age who are smokers or former smokers who have quit within the last 15 years and have smoked the equivalent of one pack per day for 20 years, or a half pack per day for 40 years.

The screening is not appropriate for people who have been diagnosed or treated for lung cancer within the past five years, have ever been diagnosed with any cancer that has spread (stage 4 or metastatic disease), or are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • New or worsening shortness of breath.
  • New or worsening wheezing.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Recently been diagnosed with pneumonia or viral respiratory illness.
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For more information about scheduling a free lung screening at the Mobile CT Unit at Brooklyn’s Metrotech Plaza, call 855-586-4769, or visit their website at Appointments can be made until Dec. 23, and then will resume in the new year.