Q&A: Lung Cancer is a Silent Killer

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What you need to know about a lifesaving screening, and how a two-minute scan saves lives

Darren I. Rohan, MD, FACS

Q: Why is it important to be screened for lung cancer?

A: Lung cancer is a silent killer. In its early stages, it has no symptoms and can spread without warning. That’s why lung cancer screening for people who are high-risk is so important: They often feel perfectly healthy. Often, people don’t develop symptoms until the disease has either spread or grown too large to cure. Research shows that if a person’s lung cancer is detected at an earlier stage, their five-year survival rate can increase from four percent to fifty-five percent, according to the American Lung Association.

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Q: Who is considered high-risk?

A: If you currently smoke or have a long history of smoking, you may be considered high-risk. Of course, even lifetime non-smokers sometimes get lung cancer. Exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, or a family history of lung cancer can all increase risk. For the safest approach, speak to your doctor about any of the above risk factors. If your physician recommends a lung cancer screening, don’t delay.

Q: How are patients screened and treated?

A: Patients are screened with a noninvasive low-dose CT scan, which only takes a minute. It’s a very sensitive test for diagnosing lung cancer. If the cancer is in the early stages, the most advanced treatment option is minimally invasive robotic surgery, which enables me to move surgical instruments more precisely, so I’m not damaging healthy surrounding tissue. In addition, I’m able to make tiny incisions, so there’s less bleeding and pain for the patient. At NWH, we also offer advanced ablation techniques, which use image guidance to insert a needle through the skin into the tumor. Other options include burning or freezing the tumor; or stereotactic radiosurgery, which uses radiation without an incision.

Q: What if surgery is too risky for the patient?

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A: Some patients have advanced lung disease, very bad emphysema, or heart disease, and surgery is too risky. If the patient is too high-risk, the cancer is too advanced or the patient doesn’t want surgery, an option is immunotherapy, a newer treatment. Immunotherapy is a targeted treatment that revs up the immune system so it’s better able to fight the cancer. It’s been remarkably effective. I have patients who are in complete remission. It’s a wonderful advancement in the treatment of lung cancer.

As part of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, we’re able to expand our ability to bring top-rated cancer specialists, state-of-the-art technology, leading-edge clinical trials and a full range of support programs so community members can get the best cancer care right near home, in Westchester. Patients who want the most advanced cancer care don’t need to travel to New York City.

Q: Are marijuana smokers or those who vape at risk?

A: While researchers still don’t know the precise risks for long-term marijuana smokers or those who vape, any type of inhalation is not a good thing and could increase your risk.

The care and safety of our community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is Northern Westchester Hospital’s top priority. We have put maximum safety measures in place to prevent exposure to the coronavirus for anyone who comes to the Hospital for emergent or scheduled care.

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Learn more about Dr. Rohan
Darren Rohan, MD, FACS
Westchester Regional Director of the Thoracic Surgery Program, Northwell Health
Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Northern Westchester Hospital

Read Past Topics from Dr. Rohan 
Finding Relief from Acid Reflux Disease
Esophageal Cancer

Find out about a lung cancer screening to get the earliest treatment possible.

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