What you need to know about Lung Cancer, from Penrose-St. Francis Health Services

By: Chris Valentine, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, for SENIOR Magazine (Colorado Springs edition)

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Most people are surprised when they hear this because lung cancer isn’t something that you hear about in the national media on a regular basis. We asked thoracic surgeon Dr. Matthew Blum with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services to shed some light on the subject for us.

Dr. Blum got right to the point when asked about the cause of lung cancer. “Clearly, smoking tobacco products, especially cigarettes, is the number one cause of lung cancer.” The American Cancer Society reinforces this by saying that eight out of ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking tobacco.

Living in Colorado may be a benefit since Colorado statistically has a somewhat lower incidence of lung cancer than much of the rest of the country. Experts believe this is most likely due to lower rates of smoking.

Because symptoms do not appear until the cancer has progressed, early detection is difficult. Many early lung cancers are found as a result of tests for unrelated medical conditions.

“Surgery remains the most effective curative treatment for lung cancer,” said Dr. Blum. “For small, early cancers, it is often the only treatment necessary. Advances in surgical techniques, particularly minimally invasive surgery, mean that surgery is lower impact than ever and more patients are able to tolerate curative operations. For cancers that have spread to lymph nodes or large cancers, chemotherapy is often used after surgery. For cancers that have spread extensively within the chest or beyond the chest, chemotherapy is usually the main treatment.”

Minimally invasive surgery involves using a scope inserted through a small incision that does not require spreading the ribs. Complication rates are lower, pain is substantially less and recovery times are faster.

“One of the more exciting technologies is in radiation therapy with a technique called body radiosurgery” continued Dr. Blum. “This technique uses a high dose of focused radiation to kill the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding lung tissue. One of the reasons I came to Penrose is that the Penrose Cancer Center has a CyberKnife System which is one of the body radiosurgery systems. This technique is currently used to treat patients who have localized lung cancer but are not candidates for surgery. It may be used as first line treatment in the future for some patients.”

Treating lung tumors with radiation is difficult because tumors in the lungs move as a patient breathes, making it difficult to treat these tumors accurately; the surgeon doesn’t know quite where the tumor is at any given time in the respiration cycle, therefore damage to surrounding healthy tissue may occur. However, the CyberKnife System has the unique ability to follow a lung tumor while the patient is breathing normally. The system uses continual image guidance technology to track the patient’s breathing cycle, detect the location of the tumor, and correct the treatment delivery direction/angles accordingly throughout the entire course of treatment thus minimizing damage to surrounding critical structures.

Dr. Blum recently joined the cancer team at Penrose-St. Francis. The previous eight years he served as the section head of thoracic surgery and co-director of thoracic oncology at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. As part of the Penrose Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary thoracic oncology team, Dr. Blum works closely with other specialists to develop the best personalized cancer therapy for each individual patient. Dr. Blum is Board Certified in both general and thoracic surgery.

Chris Valentine is with Penrose-St Francis Health Services. More information is available at www.penroseStFrancis.org Dr Blum may be reached at 719-473-3550

Photo cut line:

The Penrose Cancer Center now offers CyberKnife technology, a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of cancerous tumors anywhere in the body.