Beating Lung Cancer Through Early Detection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer is responsible for the majority of cancer deaths in both men and women throughout the United States.

This fact is why Donald Roberts’ primary care physician recommended that he get a lung CT scan, based on his past history of smoking. Donald (Don), who had been a smoker for more than 40 years, was attending his annual physical when he received this life-saving recommendation.

“I had quit smoking over 10 years ago, and felt healthy with no symptoms, but I trusted my physician and went in for the scan,” says Don. “Little did I know, this small step helped save my life.”

Don visited Hoag Health Center-Huntington Beach for a CT scan. Following the scan, a small area of concern was detected, and Don was followed with another scan six months later. Unfortunately, the second CT scan revealed that the area of concern had grown and needed to be biopsied to clarify its nature. Through a minimally invasive needle biopsy, administered by an experienced Hoag interventional radiologist, the growth was diagnosed as stage 1 lung cancer.

Don was then referred to Hoag Family Cancer Institute, which is known for having top surgeons who perform minimally invasive lung surgery. “As I met with Hoag’s Lung Cancer Program team, I became more and more comfortable. I knew I was in good hands.”

Leading-edge surgical options

After discussing his surgical options, Don decided on video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). VATS is a minimally invasive, leading-edge procedure that, unlike standard thoracotomy (lung surgery), which requires a six to eight inch incision, requires only four small incisions through which surgical instruments and a thoracoscope are placed.

The minimally invasive VATS technique offers clear advantages over the open-chest procedure. Traditional thoracotomy not only involves a large incision, but also requires spreading the ribs and possibly severing muscles. The VATS procedure, however, is completed through small keyhole incisions without rib spreading or muscle damage.

And because of reduced chest wall trauma, recovery from a VATS procedure is much quicker than traditional lung surgery. Patients benefit from shorter hospital stays, less post-operative pain, less risk of post-operative complications and faster recovery times.

Support through the journey

Helping Don and his wife during their journey through diagnosis, treatment and recovery, was Lung Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Lilian Reed, R.N. Hoag’s comprehensive Lung Cancer Program not only includes prevention, early detection, and advanced treatment options, but also includes patient support and education through a multidisciplinary team approach.

Along with Hoag’s team of experienced medical staff, Lilian meets with patients and their families following diagnosis and guides them through the treatment process by providing one-on-one support, and streamlined access to lung cancer resources.

“Prior to my surgery I met with Lilian, who spent time explaining the steps of surgery and recovery to me and my wife,” continues Don. “She was there the day of surgery, and each day following, making sure our questions were answered, providing support and education.”

In addition to the one-on-one support provided by the nurse coordinator, lung cancer patients also benefit from educational and support programs provided by Hoag Family Cancer Institute Oncology Support Services.

These programs include patient and family support groups led by licensed clinical social workers and integrative care programs such as yoga and pilates, creative art workshops and a Brighter Image program, which helps cancer patients adjust to the physical changes from cancer treatment.

“A cancer diagnosis is not something you expect,” explains Don. “Yet, at Hoag Family Cancer Institute, and under the care of the lung cancer program team, I felt confident that I would beat my lung cancer.”

And Don was right. Due to clear surgical margins and an overall positive assessment of his case, Don received the good news that no chemotherapy was needed; only a routine lung CT scan every six months. Just two short months following his surgery, Don is back to his normal speed and enjoying time with his wife and large family of children and grandchildren.

“I can’t thank my doctor enough for letting me know about the importance of early detection,” says Don with a smile. “And I am equally thankful for the life-saving care that the Hoag Family Cancer Institute team provides to patients like me each day.”

To learn more about Hoag's Lung Cancer Program and VATS, click here.