Anyone can get lung cancer - the number one cancer killer in America.
Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung change (mutate). They grow uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor. Most often, this change in lung cells happens when people breathe in dangerous, toxic substances.
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. It causes about 87 percent of lung cancer cases. Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals that are known to cause lung cancer. Smokers and nonsmokers who breathe in smoke can develop lung cancer or other illnesses.
One reason lung cancer is so deadly according the American Lung Association (ALA) is that it is hard to find in its early stages. It may take years for the lung cancer to grow, and early on there are usually no symptoms of lung cancer.
Lung cancer treatment is more successful when it is found early. A recent ALA study found that lung cancer screening with low dose CT scans can reduce deaths in those with a high lung cancer risk. The ALA, which has been leading the fight for healthy lungs and healthy air for more than 100 years, recommends talking to your doctor to determine if you are a candidate for lung cancer screening if you have not been diagnosed yet.
Here in Northwest Indiana, Franciscan Alliance - with Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Michigan City, Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point and Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Dyer and Hammond all accredited with commendation by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer - provides a comprehensive lung cancer treatment program so patients need not travel outside the area for the best, most timely care.
The process begins with low-dose, CT Scan screenings, which are recommended for persons aged 55 or older, who are current or former smokers and are done following an initial patient assessment.
“From diagnostics to therapeutics to surgery to recovery, our hospitals offer it all,” Michael Meska, Franciscan Alliance regional director for respiratory therapy, said.
“We can do anything a ‘big-city’ hospital can do, with timeliness being a key factor,”
Smokers whose screenings are negative are referred to American Cancer Society (ACS) cessation programs and are monitored.
For those whose results are positive, if the mass is small, they enter a watchful-waiting program for six months to a year for assessment, according to Meska.
Those whose tumors are larger are candidates for endobronchial ultrasound and electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy -minimally invasive technology that allows lung lesions that are located beyond the reach of traditional bronchoscopes to be visualized and accessed.
Using a CT scan, computer software creates a virtual 3-D road map through the deep passages of the lungs. Once a catheter-type tool is inserted into the airway and reaches the tumor, tissue can be harvested for biopsy, tumor changes can be tracked and a marker can be placed to pinpoint the location for subsequent radiation treatment.
“Without this technology, we would have to use a needle to go into the lung, which has risks; or even do surgery, which has more risks,” Don H. Dumont, M.D., a pulmonary medicine specialist, said. “But ENB is an outpatient procedure and the only recovery time needed is due to anesthesia.”
Franciscan Alliance hospitals also offer radiation therapy, medical oncology, brachytherapy and infusion services, as well as state-of-the-art Linear Accelerators, which allow for minimally invasive treatment and higher radiation doses, usually in two minutes or less.
If surgery is needed, Eias Jweied, Ph.D., M.D., and Chadrick Cross, M.D., perform video-assisted thoracoscopic lobectomy, which is minimally invasive, involves smaller incisions and results in less pain and faster patient recovery times. Average hospital stays are two to three days, compared to seven to 10 days.
“The public needs to know this procedure is available locally, since many people think they have to drive to Chicago to receive it,” Dr. Jweied said. “They don’t need to travel to Chicago; we bring the highest-quality services here, to them.”
The procedure, which mostly treats stages one and two lung cancers, involves using a small camera that is introduced into the patient through a scope, which allows the physician to view the instruments and the anatomy. The camera and instruments are inserted through ports, which helps to reduce the chances for infection and allows for a faster recovery.
Along with physicians, nurse navigators perform an invaluable role for patients throughout the treatment process, with cancer support groups also available at the hospitals, Meska added.
“They help the patient navigate through all stages; they hold their hands through the process to explain and help them understand what is going on,” he said. “We have university-academically trained physicians and offer quality, more timely care along the continuum - from diagnosis, to treatment, which every patient deserves – all in our neck of the woods.”
While lung cancer is a complicated disease affecting over 370,000 Americans each year, Franciscan Alliance provides world-class treatment and support close to home for the people of Northwest Indiana. As researchers continue to study lung cancer treatments that will help people live longer, the Franciscan Alliance team can answer questions about whether you need to take action to decrease your risk, if you should be screened, how long cancer is diagnosed as well as which lung cancer treatment option would be recommended for you if needed.