Lung cancer awareness

November 30, 2022 Swedish Cancer Team

[6 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming the lives of more people every year than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined.

  • Experts say a team approach that provides a wide range of expertise in a variety of medical specialties is the most effective way to battle lung cancer and improve outcomes.

  • Two lung cancer experts at Swedish discuss the importance of lung cancer screenings and highlight innovative technology that can help improve your outcome if testing reveals potential problems.

We are seeing lung cancer rates slowly drop over time. More people are quitting smoking. Advances in diagnosis and treatment options continue to boost survival success rates. And yet, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In fact, more people die from lung cancer every year than from prostate, breast and colon cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society. The team of Cancer experts at the Swedish Cancer Institute is dedicated to improving those numbers.

“We use a multidisciplinary approach that gives our patients access to the advanced expertise of thoracic surgeons, thoracic medical oncologists, ,interventional pulmonologists and other partners on the multidisciplinary thoracic oncology team,” says Jed Gorden, M.D., director of interventional pulmonology at Swedish and medical director for the Center for Lung Research in honor of Wayne Gittinger. “On top of that, we have the most up-to-date technology in the region coupled with an active lung cancer screening program. This collaborative team approach gives patients the best results.”

Early detection saves lives

“Our goal is to catch any potential cancer as early as possible,” says Nurse Practitioner Emily Grob. Emily heads up the smoking cessation and lung cancer screening program at Swedish, working with patients who meet the guidelines for lung cancer screening to help them understand the benefits and potential risks.  

“The outcomes are much better if we can detect lung cancer at its earliest stage, and adherence is best with education and shared decision making” says Emily.

Lung cancer screening uses a low-dose CT scan that requires a very small amount of radiation to see inside your lungs and chest. The procedure gives your physician a detailed picture of your lungs and chest to help identify if a potential cancer is present. The test takes only a few minutes and causes no pain or discomfort.

“Lung cancer screening uses the lowest dose of radiation possible to get a detailed look at your lungs. We’re cautious with the amount of radiation we use because we expect to do this test multiple times over the years, not just once,” says Emily.

Lung cancer screening has two parts: verification and the procedure itself. “There are two steps, which is a bit different for many people to get used to,” says Emily. “The first step before the procedure is verifying that a patient is eligible for lung cancer screening. It is something that insurance requires that we do. That’s also an opportunity for patients to decide whether to do the screening. Since it is a bit more involved than other forms of screening, we do recommend that people really consider the process before committing to it,” The process is called shared decision making and is essential to creating a strong bond, she explains.

“The second step is getting the low dose CT scan, which is noninvasive, fast and painless. Then the patient reviews the scan results with the nurse practitioner, either in person or virtually,” Emily adds.

Swedish follows recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to determine whether lung cancer screening is for you. According to their guidelines, you should consider lung cancer screening if you are an adult between 50 to 80 years old with a 20-pack year or more smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. A pack year equals smoking one pack of cigarettes daily for one year. If you smoke more than one pack a day, each additional pack is considered an additional pack year.

Screenings can stop:

  • Once you turn 81 years old.
  • If you haven’t smoked for 15 years.
  • If you develop a health problem that makes you unwilling or unable to have surgery if diagnosed with lung cancer.

Regular lung cancer screening is an effective tool because it often identifies health problems before you have recognizable symptoms.

“Generally, if cancer hasn’t spread, you won’t have signs it’s there. That’s one of the reasons we recommend people screen every year, even when they don’t have any symptoms. We start to get worried if you’re talking about unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, changing your breathing, shortness of breath or a change in your cough. Those can all be signs that something is going on,” Emily explains.

If an issue is identified during lung cancer screening, the next step is to determine whether cancer exists and, if so, its severity and whether it has spread from your lungs to other parts of your body.

“Lung cancer screening allows us to identify abnormalities in the lungs and then go through the process of figuring out if they are cancer. Most abnormalities are not cancer, but if they are, hopefully, they’ve been detected at an early stage when we can do the most about them and give people the best outcome,” says Dr. Gorden.

Identifying abnormalities 

You have several options if your lung cancer screening reveals a potential issue, according to Dr. Gorden. Choices range from “watchful waiting” and monitoring your condition with repeat CT imaging over time to taking a tissue sample which is the same as a biopsy from the area of concern in your lungs.

“Our team of cancer specialists works together to create a personalized care plan based on each patient’s unique health needs and goals. We go through a thoughtful process to identify the care path that gives you the best possible outcome,” he says. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Everything we do is based on what’s best for each individual. At the end of the day, the goal is to safely diagnose the patient and move them towards the therapy they need.”

Robotic endoscopic bronchoscopy

Swedish recently became the first health system in the state to offer robotic bronchoscopy through the Auris Health Monarch Platform. This innovative technology improves upon traditional bronchoscopy and adds an effective weapon to the arsenal of tools Swedish uses to sfely diagnose lung cancer, according to Dr. Gorden.

Traditional bronchoscopy uses a small tube with a camera attached, allowing your health care provider to see inside your lungs and airways. It can collect samples of lung cells, fluids and other tissues from your lungs.

“During robotic navigation bronchoscopy, a CT scan is used to help plot a pathway through your airways. Then we use a controller – almost like an X-box controller – and drive a catheter into the periphery of your lung,” says Dr. Gorden.

“Picture your lungs as a tree. We’re looking for a specific leaf on a specific branch of that tree. The robotic platform allows us to effectively navigate through the branches, isolate that specific leaf, and biopsy it. The biopsies are very safe and very accurate. They allow us to move to the next step in someone’s nodule workup in determining if it’s cancer,” he explains. “We want to be safe and highly effective. We think this new technology positions us, for the appropriate patients, to meet that goal.” 

Additional resources

SCI Spotlight: Dr. Jed Gorden, Director of Swedish Interventional Pulmonology and Medical Director for The Center of Lung Research

Mouth and Throat Cancer Screening

Great American Smokeout is November 17

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Learn more and find a provider

Do you or a family member need help quitting tobacco use? If you’re thinking about quitting, or your doctor has advised you to quit, Swedish can help.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish Cancer Team is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date insights about treatments, prevention, care and support available. We know cancer diagnoses strain you both mentally and physically, and we hope to provide a small piece of hope to you or your loved ones who are fighting the cancer battle with useful and clinically-backed advice.

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