Breathe Easy

June 01, 2012

How Providence is Fighting the Leading Cause of Cancer Death

Breast cancer has galvanized professional athletes to sport pink. Prostate cancer has moved men to discuss this once-taboo topic. The live “Katie Couric Colonoscopy” in 2000 highlighted colorectal cancer like never before.

Yet lung cancer claims more victims than all three cancers combined.

“Lung cancer is a very underappreciated disease,” says James McPherson, M.D., a board-certified thoracic surgeon at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance. “It is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.”

Providence is hoping to change that. Here’s how.

Screening Specifics

At present, there is no routine screening for lung cancer. In fact, lung cancer is often diagnosed through chest X-rays performed on patients with pneumonia or heart disease.

And by the time lung cancer is visible on an X-ray, it’s often more widespread in the body—and more lethal. The American Lung Association reports that when lung cancer has spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is 3.5 percent.

There is good news, however. Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance offer low-dose CT scans—a test that’s better at finding small lung cancers—to those at highest risk: people over 50 who have smoked for 30 or more years.

“CT screening decreases mortality from lung cancer by 20 percent in this high-risk population,” says Susan Jacobs, R.N., nurse navigator at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph in Burbank. “For lung cancer, this is an amazing number.”

Treating Lung Cancer

The Disney Family Cancer Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance are also on the forefront of lung cancer treatment through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

When lung cancer has not spread into the body, surgery may be the first treatment option. Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance employs the da Vinci surgical system, which offers surgeons greater precision and dexterity while reducing recovery time and the size of the incision.

Called “adjunctive” therapies, chemotherapy and radiation can also be used to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy does this with drugs, while radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays.

The Disney Family Cancer Center also offers minimally invasive surgery options and stereotactic radiotherapy, a new lung cancer treatment that delivers a targeted dose of radiation to the tumor with less damage to surrounding tissue.