A groundbreaking B.C. pilot project is helping patients beat the cancer clock by dramatically trimming the process of diagnosis and treatment.

The Rapid Autopilot Program (RAP) at Surrey Memorial Hospital, the first of its kind in Canada, diagnoses patients with lung cancer masses within 45 days – a much shorter time frame than the standard 170 to 190 days.

Doctors say RAP is aiding early detection of the potentially deadly cancer, allowing increased survival rates with fewer tests, saving lives while also potentially saving health care dollars.

Longtime smoker Jacobus Both, 54, was diagnosed with lung cancer after a suspicious tumour was discovered during a CT scan.

He underwent surgery in November 2012, within three months of his initial diagnosis. That’s record time for an illness that can take up to six months just for diagnosis.

Knowing that rapid diagnosis helps save lives in lung cancer patients, Thoracic Surgeon Dr. James Bond designed the RAP program with two others, contributing his own time and money.

The program is able to cut down wait times by up to 75 per cent by jumping in front of the queue, in front of other specialists, for rapid diagnosis.

Any patient at Surrey Memorial Hospital who has abnormal chest x-rays, CT scans or any other issue identified by the radiologist as at risk for lung malignancy will enter into the care path.

“Systemic barriers resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment is a worldwide problem that is costing lives,” said Bond. “By rapidly triaging patients into specialist care, the RAP is expected to produce better outcomes for early stage lung cancer patients.”

Because his cancer was detected so early, Both, an engineer, did not have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation.

Since the lobectomy for a squamous cell carcinoma, Both has returned to work, and has even gone skiing three times.

"I’m very grateful to have some time left,” he said.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of death in Canada in both men and women. Within the Fraser Health region, 21 new patients a week are diagnosed with lung cancer.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Julie Nolin