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Battling Lung Cancer

Advances in screening and Treatment Help Patients Breathe Easier

Posted on May 12, 2012 and filed under Stories.

American Cancer Society statistics indicate that lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States.

“Lung cancer is the 800-pound gorilla of all cancers,” said Dr. Enser Cole, chief of medical oncology at Saint Agnes Hospital’s Cancer Institute. “It exceeds all other types in death rates.”

Statistics on survival depend on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed. Historically, lung cancer has been detected incidentally, Dr. Cole said, as symptoms do not present themselves until the cancer is advanced.

Saint Agnes Hospital is working to detect the disease at its earliest stages. Catching the cancer early provides the best chance for a cure, he explained.

Leading the Charge for Early Detection

When a patient visits his or her primary care physician complaining of symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss or coughing up blood, he is sent for a chest X-ray. If the X-ray provides a suggestion of a nodule, then a CT scan may be ordered for a more definitive picture. Following an abnormal CT scan, the patient is referred to a pulmonologist for a biopsy. The biopsy is usually acquired through fiber-optic bronchoscopy, which enables the pulmonologist to gain a tissue sample from the questionable spot in the lungs.

GPS Technology

Last spring, Saint Agnes added Electromagnetic Navigation Bronchoscopy. The hospital is one of a few in the area to use the SuperDimension® i·Logic System which uses technology similar to a GPS to pinpoint a nodule’s exact location for biopsy. Physicians can reach lesions that reside deeper in the lungs that previously could only be evaluated following a more invasive surgical procedure.

Dr. Kala Davis-McDonald is pictured with the SuperDimension® i·Logic System, similar to a GPS, used for early lung cancer detection.

“We are able to diagnose cancer at a very early stage,” said Dr. Davis-McDonald, chief of pulmonary medicine at Saint Agnes Hospital. “This leads to better outcomes.”

When lung cancer is detected at Stage 1, the chance for survival after five years is 92 percent. If it is diagnosed as a Stage 4 lung cancer, the rate dips to 15 percent.

“Most patients in the early stage don’t even have symptoms,” said Dr. Davis-McDonald.

Unique Approach

At Saint Agnes, the tumor can be detected early, it can be removed minimally invasively soon after, and the patient is well cared for and on the road to recovery much sooner.

“We care for the patient all in one place in a short period of time,” said Dr. Gavin Henry, director of thoracic surgical oncology at Saint Agnes Hospital. “That’s hard to beat.”

Traditionally, patients could wait up to four weeks for a diagnosis. At Saint Agnes, that time is shortened as all of the care is provided through a multidisciplinary approach and with the latest technology. Pulmonologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic surgeons, and other experts consult on all cases during the weekly team meetings to ensure the treatment plan includes input from all disciplines. Patients receive results in a matter of days, not weeks.

Advanced Treatments

Saint Agnes Hospital remains in the forefront of minimally invasive surgery and that certainly applies to its treatment protocol for lung cancer. The hospital recently acquired the da Vinci Surgical System, a state-of-the-art robotic technology that is the most advanced surgical equipment in use today.

The da Vinci system provides higher resolution images, better vision for the physician and newer technology that is easier to use, according to Dr. Henry. The technology has more flexibility and articulation, more turning and bending, and more freedom, enabling for a precise operation, he explained.

“This tool is better than any other, and it makes the operation more precise,” said Dr. Henry, who in early August helped Saint Agnes become one of the first  facilities in Maryland to use the da Vinci for robotic lung surgery.

Besides being more precise and efficient, the da Vinci surgery proves better for the patient. Instead of having a large incision of up to eight inches in length with open surgery, patients will only need an incision of about two inches, Dr. Henry said. This reduces pain and speeds up recovery. By the first evening, patients can sit up and eat without pain and even walk. On the second day post-operation, most patients are released from the hospital, an average of two days earlier than patients undergoing traditional lobectomy surgery.

The addition of the da Vinci and the Super Dimension systems puts Saint Agnes Hospital in the forefront of lung cancer care in Maryland.

For more information on Lung Cancer treatment and prevention, please contact the Saint Agnes Cancer Institute at 410-368-2910.

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