November was lung cancer awareness month, and there were many campaigns and activities designed to make people aware of this dreadful disease. Now that we are into December, it’s important to continue to stay educated, especially if you think you are at risk for this disease. Lung cancer causes more deaths than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. The most difficult part of any type of cancer is to find it early when it is much easier to manage; however, in its early stages, lung cancer does not typically cause any symptoms.
What is most important to emphasize is the prevention of lung cancer starts with stopping use of all tobacco products as nearly 90 percent of all lung cancers are related to tobacco. That said, not all lung cancers are caused by tobacco product use. The other first line of defense is screening patients that are at risk. Lung cancer screening is relatively new, only being approved by Medicare in the last two years. Knowing the impact this screening could have on our community, Lima Memorial Health System has been offering this screening option, a low-dose CT scan of the chest, for patients who are 55-77 years old and who are current or former smokers without any symptoms.
When a suspicious area on a CT scan is found, patients have many options to determine if it is cancer. At Lima Memorial we offer a specialized group of technology that allows a patient to have an outpatient procedure and not only receive the diagnosis of the lesion but also learn the stage of the disease. The probability of getting the cancer stage is 95 percent, and the probability of getting a diagnosis of the area in the lung is 90 percent. This is much higher than what previously could be obtained.
This minimally invasive procedure takes place in the bronchoscopy suite at the hospital. Our anesthesia team is involved in the process to ensure the patient is comfortable. The procedure includes using a specialized bronchoscope combined with ultrasound technology. This allows visualization through the airway into the lymph nodes for biopsies. Following the procedure, a 3D computerized model of the patient’s airways is created using state-of-the-art software. Using the 3D model, another bronchoscope is navigated through the complex maze of airways directly to the suspicious area. At this time a biopsy is obtained. After a short recovery time, the patient is able to go home the same day and will return in less than a week for their results. If their diagnosis is cancer, we will discuss their stage and treatment plan at that time.
In addition to the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer, Lima Memorial also offers highly technically advanced lung cancer care and treatment with the use of laser and airway stent therapy. If a cancer is diagnosed at a later stage and has invaded the airway and is causing a blockage, I am able to partially resect the tumor using a laser. After the tumor is partially resected, a small balloon is placed into the airway. The balloon is then expanded to open the airway back up. A partially covered metal stent is then placed into the airway to keep the airway open and prevent the tumor from growing back into the airway. While this therapy does not cure the cancer, it does make it easier for the patient to undergo treatment with chemotherapy and radiation by allowing them to breathe much easier, improving their quality of life.
As you can see, the tides are turning for those at risk for or diagnosed with lung cancer. We are privileged to provide this cutting-edge lung cancer care from screening to treatment that is not typically found outside of a large university hospital system. It is important to note that much of what was talked about within this column would not have been possible without the philanthropic support of so many businesses and individuals throughout the Lima area and beyond. It gives me great pride to know so many trust the exceptional care that is being delivered, and I am honored to be able to bring these highly specialized therapies back to the area that was instrumental in providing my educational foundation.
Dr. Jason Stienecker, DO, of Lima Memorial Pulmonary & Sleep Center, is a native of New Knoxville. He received his medical education and training from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania, St. John Medical Center in Ohio and Parkview Medical Center in Colorado.