Last year, lung cancer remained the most-frequent cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined. For this reason, a lung cancer diagnosis should be taken very seriously. The chances of survival can be slim, with about a 17 percent five-year survival rate for those diagnosed. That is, of course, unless the disease is discovered at an early stage, which can mean a five-year survival rate of up to 70 percent if the cancer is treated properly and thoroughly.
Blount Memorial thoracic surgeon Dr. Jason Budde says catching the disease early is key. “Because the survival rate is increased for lung cancers that are caught in the earliest stages, it’s important for those who are at risk to get screened,” he said. “For instance, smokers who are 55-74 years old demonstrate an elevated risk of developing lung cancer, and studies show these people benefit from a screening computed tomography (CT) scan to help detect cancers while still at a low stage. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has agreed to cover the cost of these lifesaving scans, and private insurance companies will likely follow suit. Until that time, though, Blount Memorial will continue to offer the lowest-cost screening in the area,” he explained. “Since October 2013, Blount Memorial has offered the screening at a cost of just $95, which is a significant discount from the regular price of around $375,” he added.
Biopsies are crucial for discovering lung cancers. “At Blount Memorial, we have several minimally invasive approaches for biopsy, including navigational bronchoscopy, which uses a needle through a bronchoscope and provides up to a 90 percent accuracy of diagnosis,” Budde explained. “Patients who aren’t good candidates for bronchoscopy may benefit from a needle biopsy with CT scan guidance. We also can approach with the video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) technique, which we use for about 95 percent of all chest operations at Blount Memorial, whether for diagnosis or full resection. No other hospital in the Knoxville area offers this full array of minimally-invasive lung services,” he said.
If cancer is found, Budde says the most-curative treatment is surgery. “While chemotherapy and radiation may sometimes be necessary, cancer doctors always wil strive to surgically resect tumors if possible, and the lungs are no exception” Budde said. “For patients with adequate lung function, removal of a segment (segmentectomy), lobe (lobectomy) or even the entire lung (pneumonectomy) may be undertaken to maximize the chances that the tumor will not recur. Whether the patient requires a minimally-invasive approach, or a complex lung-sparing reconstruction (such as a sleeve resection), Blount Memorial’s services are on par with nationally-known medical centers,” he explained.
Budde says, for patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer at stage III B or stage IV, there is no cure. There are, however, many therapies that can help relieve symptoms and improve overall quality of life, a strategy known as palliation. “There are a few types of palliative therapies we can do to help patients with a late-stage diagnosis,” Budde said. “One of these is pleurodesis, which involves using the VATS procedure to apply a glue-like material into the lung space to prevent further accumulation of cancer fluid in the lung. This helps breathing, and often is combined with chemotherapy or radiation. This has been shown to be 80-90 percent effective, and helps patients leave the hospital in a very short period of time. We also can use some cutting-edge therapies to break up or deride tumors, including lasers, stents or brachytherapy,” he explained.
Blount Memorial continues to offer discounted lung cancer screenings for $95 for adults ages 55-74 who are current heavy smokers with a smoking history of 30 years or more (either one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years); are former heavy smokers who have quit within the last 15 years; have no previous diagnosis of lung cancer, pulmonary nodules or related symptoms such as shortness of breath, unusual or persistent chest or back pain, and coughing up blood; have a written order from a physician or other health care provider; and have not undergone a chest CT within the last 18 months. “Still, if you feel that you need to be screened, come in, and we’ll get you screened, regardless of the details. It’s that important,” adds Budde.
Discount screenings are offered at two locations, including Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Medical Group, located at 266 Joule St. For more information or to make an appointment, call the Blount Memorial radiology department at 865-981-2288 or East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-268-1320. You also may call Budde’s office at 865-238-6181.