Larry King felt fine, but he decided to keep his annual physical appointment — and that decision may have saved his life.

“I didn’t have any pain, but when they took a chest x-ray the doctor said, ‘There’s a little cloud here…,’ ” the legendary interviewer, 83, tells PEOPLE of his July 2016 appointment.

A CAT scan and PET scan followed, and King was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer.

“They said I was lucky and smart to get annual chest x-rays because lung cancer doesn’t give you any signs until it’s in late stages,” King says. “And by then it’s too late.”

King — who recently launched the sixth season of Larry King Now — was allowed to go on a two-week European speaking tour but then returned to have surgery to remove the malignant mass.

“They went in through my ribs with a tiny camera and snipped it out,” King says. “I only had a little pain and some shortness of breath but once my speech is back full – and that took about a week – I went right back to work.”

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