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Did You Miss Abington Health’s Live Health Chat?

Here are the Highlights on “Screening for Lung Cancer and Options for Treatment”

On Wednesday, thoratic surgeon, Colleen B. Gaughan, MD, and medical oncologist, Mark L. Sundermeyer, MD, of Abington Health answered your questions and gave incredibly valuable information on lung cancer screening and treatment in this month’s Health Chat. Find the full chat here and read on for the highlights in case you missed it!

Who should be screened for lung cancer?

The current recommendation for screening is anybody between the ages of 55 and 74 who have smoked at least one pack per day for 30 years (or two packs per day for 15 years) and does not have any current history of cancer, Dr. Gaughan explained. Patients who display symptoms will be eligible for diagnostic testing of the lungs. Once someone has been smoke-free for 15 years or more, they’re risk for getting cancer decreases, Dr. Sundermeyer added later in the chat.

Since the screening program was implemented at Abington Health, how many people have benefited?

“Since the program started about two years ago, we’ve had more than 800 patients involved in either our screening program or our lung nodule program,” Dr. Sundermeyer explained. “From those patients involved, we’ve diagnosed 13 early stage lung cancers and we’ve found no advanced stage cancer.” That is the purpose of the screening, to catch lung cancer while it is still in the early stage.

What types of treatments are available?

Dr. Gaughan explained that for early stages of cancer, such as stage 1 and 2, surgery to remove the cancer and area of lung that contains the cancer is considered the “gold standard” of treatment if the patient is healthy enough for surgery.

Dr. Sundermeyer added that for more advanced stages of lung cancer, like stage 3, they will start with a course of radiation or chemotherapy to shrink the tumor which will then allow Dr. Gaughan to consider surgery. In the case of stage 4 lung cancer, the goals are to control the cancer, and chemotherapies and molecular therapies are the current mainstay.

“For those patients with earlier stage tumors that can’t undergo surgery we have focused radiation beams that we use, radiofrequency waves that can destroy the tumor and even cryotherapy which can freeze the tumor,” Dr. Sundermeyer explained.

What is genomic testing?

“One of the big advancements in lung cancer right now is determining are there specific gene mutations, known as driver mutations, meaning they’re so important the cancer can’t grow without them,” Dr. Sundermeyer said. Doctors can sequence the genome to look for mutations they can target.

“At this point there are at least three to five known mutations in lung cancer that we can target with medications and it really has become standard,” Dr. Sundermeyer continued. Abington Health offers genomic testing to more effectively focus treatment and minimize side effects, as molecular therapies are often better tolerated than other therapies like chemo.

Is it safe to exercise during treatment?

“We actually encourage our patients to exercise around the time of their treatment and to maintain as much of their normal lifestyle as they can,” Dr. Gaughan replied. “Especially with minimally invasive surgery, you can return to your normal level of functioning much sooner. I encourage my patients to go out and walk immediately after surgery.”

Dr. Sundermeyer added that fatigue is one of the main side effects of the medications used in chemotherapy and molecular therapy. “The only thing that’s actually been shown to minimize fatigue from these treatments is exercise,” he said. Although it may be the last thing a patient wants to do after treatment, it’s worth it in the long run, Dr. Sundermeyer explained.

Key Takeaways

The doctors said the key takeaways from the webchat were:

  • Find a physician who you trust to help you through your care.
  • Know your risk factors and that it’s never too late to quit smoking—every year you’re smoke-free your risk goes down.
  • Follow through with your health care providers recommendation for screening, smoking cessation, exercise, and a healthy diet.
  • Think about clinical trials because they can offer good opportunities.

If you missed this chat, make sure to tune into the next Abington Health live chat on Preventing Heart Disease with Dr. Fireman. Is stress making you more at risk? Can you identify the warning signs? The chat is on Thursday, February 19 at 6 p.m. Sign up and submit your confidential questions here.