Catching lung cancer early increases survival rates

Thoracic Oncology Image 2Far too often, lung cancer isn’t caught in time for the most effective treatment.

In some cases, symptoms such as a coughing or difficulty breathing may be confused with other, less serious ailments. In other cases, those with lung cancer simply exhibit no symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.

With only 15 percent of cases diagnosed at an early stage, lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of death from cancer in the United States. That’s more than breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined.

What many people don’t know is that early screening is available and is showing promise. The results of the National Lung Screening Trial demonstrated low-dose CT scans may prove effective in reducing mortality, with patients who received that screening having a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than those receiving standard chest X-rays.

This month, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Medicare proposed covering annual lung cancer screenings for some older adults whose long histories of smoking put them at high risk for the disease.

For those with lung cancer, Tucson Medical Center offers a comprehensive and unique Thoracic Oncology Program that offers a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, bringing medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pulmonologists, radiologists and pathologists together to tailor a treatment plan based on their collective expertise.

“Lung cancer is very complex, depending on a host of subtle factors and the stage,” said Dr. Douglas Lowell, who specializes in thoracic surgery and serves as the medical director of the program. “A multidisciplinary approach that brings all of the experts from these areas to study an individual case means that patient is going to be directed to the correct therapy before any treatment is done.”

“It really gives patients peace of mind.”Thoracic Oncology Image 1

The team approach also includes a patient’s primary care physician. “Referring physicians must be kept informed of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment approach because they are crucial in guiding that patient’s journey back to wellness,” said Anita Bach, director of Cardiac and Imaging Services at TMC.

Referring physicians are invited to sit in on team meetings to assist in developing a comprehensive care plan.

Another important feature of the TMC Thoracic Oncology Program is our designated nurse navigator. The nurse navigator serves as a patient advocate in that critical time between diagnosis and treatment, can help line up tests and arrange visits with specialists, and can serve as a point of contact for physicians with additional needs. A similar model has been used successfully for years in the TMC Breast Health and Education Program.

Additionally, TMC offers the latest, minimally-invasive approaches to diagnosis and treatment, designed to improve patient outcomes with reduced pain and faster healing. Some of those approaches include video-assisted thoracic surgery, robotics, ultrasound-guided bronchoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).

“TMC has a long tradition of providing effective, compassionate care to patients diagnosed with cancer, and this program ensures each patient will receive the best care depending on their individual situation,” Bach said.

For more information about the program, please contact Nurse Navigator Sara Reagan at 520-324-2446 or

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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