[Audio] Understanding Lung Cancer, Diagnosis & Treatment

Nov 4, 2015

Credit blueringmedia, 123rf Stock Photo

Baptist Health Paducah is holding a vigil called "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Larry Barton Atrium as a way to remember those who are struggling with lung cancer and those who have lost loved ones to the disease. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Dr. Nicholas Lopez, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Baptist Health Paducah, about lung cancer in our region, ways to prevent and manage the risks, and understanding what the treatment process is like.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers not only in our area but also worldwide. 180,000 people per year are diagnosed with lung cancer in the US and is the most common cancer treated at Baptist Health Paducah, Dr. Lopez says.

There are two major categories: non-small cell lung carcinoma and a small cell carcinoma. Between the two, there's a less common cancer called a carcinoid. In non-small there are two classifications: adenocarcinoma and squamous-cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is the more aggressive of the two.

The survival rate for lung cancer diagnosis depends on the stage or presentation of the time of diagnosis. Staging is how they describe how far along the cancer is - if it's only in the lung and a small size that's the least advanced - versus a more advanced larger sized tumor, then looking at lymph nodes and other parts of the chest and lungs. If we can catch someone at an earlier stage, that's the best chance for survival. A best case scenario, he says, is a small size lesion with a squamous-cell type pathology has a 75-80% survival at five years. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't present at that stage, and present advanced cancer with three to six months of survival.

When it comes to prevention, Dr. Lopez says there appears to be a very strong connection between lung cancer and smoking. For non-smokers, the risk of lung cancer is very low. The first risk factor modification is to try to quit if you are a smoker and if you're a non-smoker to remain so. Other causes include radon exposure, so make sure your home is properly screened.

If someone is a smoker there's now a recent push to lung cancer screening with low dose CT scan. Medicare and many insurance companies cover this, he says, so smokers should talk with their physicians to express their concerns and getting a scan if they meet the criteria to make sure lung cancer is caught early when it's treatable.

Treatment depends on the stage. If it's caught early and in one spot - a single focus on one lobe within one side of the lung. A lobectomy can be the only treatment necessary for those at an early stage. A very large tumor or other lymph nodes may require chemotherapy radiation and/or surgery.

A cardiothoracic surgeon is a surgeon who focuses on cardiac or thoracic structures of the chest, including the heart, the aorta, the lungs and the esophagus. The big push now in this field is to identify weaknesses or other novel ways of treating lung cancer. Targeted therapies are being developed where people can get certain types of regiments that directly focus on a specific type of lung cancer, looking at gene testing to see if a specific path of chemotherapy may be better.

"Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" is an opportunity to have folks come together who may have had someone in their family or friend who has lung cancer, to find peace with each other and develop a community strength to fight it.

Dr. Nicholas Lopez is a cardiothoracic surgeon with Baptist Health Paducah. He will be speaking at "Shine a Light on Lung Cancer" tomorrow evening at 5 in the Larry Barton Atrium at Baptist Health Paducah. The event is a vigil to remember those who are struggling with lung cancer and those who have lost loved ones to the disease. For more information, call 270-575-2797.

More at Baptist Health Paducah's website