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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death: Thoracic surgeon available  for interviews

Fairfield resident, Dennis Roche
Fairfield resident, Dennis Roche

In September 2019 Dennis Roche went on a grocery run that saved his life.

It was on this day that the 60-year-old Fairfield resident and father bumped into a neighbor in the bread aisle who mentioned that their mutual primary care doctor was retiring and that Dennis should see her new doctor, Alla Chesky, MD., Northeast Medical Group.

“I was running out of my blood pressure medication, so I made the earliest appointment,” said Dennis.

Dennis quit smoking over a decade ago – he met the criteria for a lung scan but initially declined it.

“I didn’t want the scan,” said Dennis “But after learning how easy and accurate it was – I had it done a week later.”

Just as Dennis was leaving for a fishing trip he got a call from Jeanne Puglisi RN, from Smilow Cancer Hospital at Park Avenue Medical Center saying he needed to see a thoracic surgeon.

“I was connected with Dr. Mase, who did a biopsy and didn’t see any abnormal cells, but he was adamant that something was not right. He then biopsied my lung again and found cancerous cells,” said Dennis.

In November of 2019 Dennis had surgery that removed the cancer.

Following his surgery, Dennis was also treated by Michael Cohenuram, MD, Hematology/Medical Oncology, Bridgeport Hospital, who provided systemic treatment with chemotherapy.

“If I didn’t need my blood pressure meds I would never have gone to the doctor, but I am so grateful I did,” said Dennis.

“One of the most striking things about Dennis’ case is that it was done the way it should be done,” said Vincent J. Mase Jr, MD, assistant professor of surgery, Yale School of Medicine and site director for Thoracic Surgery at Bridgeport Hospital, “Lung cancer screening is more than just a CT scan; it is a comprehensive program in a multi-disciplinary setting that leads to outcomes like Mr. Roche experienced.”

In fact, the CDC reports that seven of eight adults who meet screening criteria for lung cancer do not get screened.

Jeanne, was one of the first members of the lung cancer screening program at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Park Avenue Medical Center. Jeanne ensures patients meet the criteria for the low dose CT scan which includes:

  • Be between the ages of 55 and 80
  • Have a 30 pack year smoking history
  • Current smoker or has quit smoking within the last 15 years
  • Must be asymptomatic (no signs/symptoms of lung cancer)
  • Must review risks and benefits of a scan with a primary care provider

“People are scared of what they might find,” said Jeanne. “Some people feel guilty because they are still smoking. I encourage them to channel that energy into quitting and staying healthy.”

Before joining the lung cancer screening program, Jeanne cared for stage 4 lung cancer patients. “By the time I saw them, the cancer was not curable. It’s exciting to see people when we can give years of their life back.”

Gean Brown, MSN, RN, clinical program manager, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Park Avenue Medical Center, who was part of the team that brought lung cancer screening to Park Ave. Medical, shares that she has “seen firsthand how this 10-minute screening saves lives.”

Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Low-dose computed tomography (CT) is the only lung cancer test recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and can help change that.

“Screening gives us information,” said Dr. Mase. “However beyond screening, we see the best outcomes when people have access to care from a wide array of disciplines working together from screening to radiation oncology to smoking cessation.”

At Bridgeport Hospital, this means that lung cancer screening CT scans undergo strict quality control, including a review by Dr. Mase and Meline Hovnanian, MD, Thoracic Radiologist. If needed, these cases are reviewed at the Thoracic Bridgeport Hospital Tumor Board where a panel of over 15 physicians review and discuss the patient’s case.

If appropriate, cases are evaluated by a team lead by Neal Fischbach, MD, assistant director for Clinical Research: Care Centers, to see if they are eligible for a clinical trial.

“My hope is that patients presenting to the hospital with stage 4 lung cancer becomes a thing of the past,” said Dr. Mase. “We can achieve this by making lung cancer screenings more accessible to those who qualify and by medical teams across the spectrum of care working together.”

If you would like to learn more about lung cancer screening, please ask your primary care doctor for more information.