By Dr. Faiz Bhora, System Chief of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently published a report stating that cancer deaths in the United States fell by 2.2 percent in 2017, marking the largest-ever single-year drop in overall cancer mortality, and an overall decline of 29 percent in cancer death rates since 1991.
Although lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, the ACS report attributes the overall cancer death rate decrease to an accelerated decline in lung cancer deaths.
Why is the lung cancer death rate decreasing?
Lung cancer death rates are decreasing as a result of advances in lung cancer diagnostic tools and treatments, the increased availability of lung cancer screenings, and a lower incidence of smoking in the general population. In addition to declining lung cancer mortality rates, these factors have also led to a decrease in new lung cancer cases.
What is lung cancer screening?
Lung cancer screening is a non-invasive imaging test that may be able to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages before symptoms develop. The test is performed once per year using low-dose computed tomography (CT) technology to reduce radiation exposure.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends annual lung cancer screening for adults between the ages of 55 to 80 who have a history of heavy or long-time smoking. Lung cancer screening is recommended for eligible adults who currently smoke or who have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
Most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover lung cancer screening for individuals who meet the USPSTF screening guidelines.
However, research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that only 4.4 percent of eligible adults receive lung cancer screening — likely due in part to low public awareness about the availability of the test. The low screening rates may also be due to lack of access to lung cancer screening; not all health systems are equipped to provide lung cancer screening and long-term follow-up for patients who receive abnormal results.
Nuvance Health’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center offers comprehensive lung cancer screening services, including follow-up screening reminders and access to the latest lung cancer treatments, if necessary.
What new diagnostic tools and treatments are available for lung cancer?
Nuvance Health thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists work together to develop a customized treatment plan for patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, often combining therapies to provide patients with the best chance of recovery. We offer the latest diagnostic and treatment options, including:
Nuvance Health patients have access to an innovative, evolving diagnostic tool called liquid biopsy. Liquid biopsy is a faster, safer, and more comprehensive alternative to genetic tumor testing, allowing physicians to test for a broader array of genetic mutations using a small blood sample — and often eliminating the need to perform an invasive biopsy to collect a sample of tumor cells for traditional genetic tumor testing.
Further, liquid biopsy test results can be used to guide treatment decisions and determine which targeted therapies or clinical trials might be most effective.
Nuvance Health has a technologically and scientifically advanced lung cancer program, with thoracic surgeons who are experienced at treating the disease with minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgical techniques.
For example, Nuvance Health is one of only a few health systems in the country that offers GPS-guided navigational precision surgery to treat lung cancer. Using either robotic surgical technology or video-assisted thoracoscopy surgery (VATS), Nuvance Health surgeons perform the procedure by inserting tiny surgical instruments and a small video camera — which allows the surgeon to see inside the body — into small incisions in the chest.
Because GPS-guided navigational precision surgery is a minimally invasive procedure, patients may experience a faster recovery, less blood loss, and reduced discomfort after surgery. The procedure also allows surgeons to precisely remove lung tumors and preserve healthy lung tissue, making it an alternative to open surgical procedures, which is especially beneficial for older patients, patients who have other health conditions, and patients who have limited lung function.
Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology
Treatments Based on the results of sophisticated genetic testing, our medical oncologists offer targeted therapies that treat lung cancer at the molecular level. Our cancer specialists also use advanced immunotherapy treatments, which stimulate your body’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.
Additionally, our radiation oncologists use some of the latest techniques to deliver targeted radiation treatment that effectively kills cancer cells without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.
Nuvance Health’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center is one of only 14 sites in the United States that is participating in the PLOTS clinical trial. The goal of the study, which opened in October 2019, is to develop high-quality data on the effectiveness of various localization techniques for peripheral pulmonary nodules, which can be an early sign of lung cancer.
The bottom line: The availability of new treatments and diagnostic tools — combined with lung cancer screenings and public health efforts to decrease smoking — are encouraging steps in the prevention and treatment of lung cancer.
To learn more about lung cancer screening and treatment at Nuvance Health, visit our websites:
About Dr. Faiz Bhora
Dr. Faiz Bhora is the System Chief of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology, and Associate Program Director of the General Surgery Residency program at Nuvance Health. Dr. Bhora specializes in minimally invasive approaches to thoracic diseases, including the use of VATS and robotic techniques to perform minimally invasive operations. He is also nationally known for performing complex endoscopic airway operations. Dr. Bhora’s research focuses on regenerative medicine, including 3D printing of the trachea, and machine learning in robotic surgery, which is the use of algorithms and statistical models in computer systems to perform specific tasks.