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Raising Awareness: World Lung Cancer Day

Dr. Larry Antonucci's Blog Posts


Aug. 4, 2021

Throughout the year, there are many health-related observances – months, weeks and days – meant to raise awareness of various medical conditions. It is hard, sometimes, to time this column to cover them. World Cancer Day, for example, is Aug. 1. Though this column may not run on Aug. 1, this condition should be covered. Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, and according to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer each year than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

There are some risk factors for lung cancer that you can control – like whether or not you smoke, but others are outside of your control, like your family history. Exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas, asbestos and other carcinogens are also risk factors for lung cancer. Discuss your risk with your primary care physician, who can determine whether screening using a low-dose computerized tomography (LPCT) scan is right for you. This annual screening is safe, non-invasive and covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans with no cost-sharing if you meet the following conditions:

  • Are aged 55 to 77 years, and
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history, and
  • Have no sign of lung cancer, and
  • Able and willing to undergo treatment if lung cancer is discovered.

Lung cancer screening finds 70% of lung cancer at an early stage – when it is more curable, says Bobbi Marino, the APRN of the Regional Cancer Center Lung Cancer Screening Program and Clinic. “When lung cancer is detected early, there are more options for treatment with possible cure,” she says. “Treatment options are greatly limited if you have advanced disease.”

Lung cancer treatment can include surgery, and one of the major advances in this treatment is the advent of the da Vinci robot. Our cardiothoracic surgeons at Shipley Cardiothoracic Center utilize this technology to ensure the highest level of care for our patients. Michael DeFrain, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon, was a guest on Shipley Cardiothoracic Center’s “Heartbeats” podcast to discuss minimally invasive surgical techniques, including the use of the da Vinci robot for the treatment of lung cancer.

“The first thing to consider is what is the best approach for the patient and their unique situation,” Dr. DeFrain says. “The promise of the minimally invasive technique is to minimize the trauma on the patient. As it relates to lung surgery, the robot provides a unique opportunity to avoid rib spreading and have access to the lung tissues. It allows us to go between the ribs and no tension or force is applied to the ribs, which provides unique patient benefits – reduced pain medication, shorter length of stay, less blood utilization and a host of other benefits.”

Dr. DeFrain adds that he thinks using the da Vinci surgical robot is the best approach for thoracic oncology, even when it comes to staging and determining the next steps for treatment. Cancer staging involves finding lymph nodes cancer may have spread to, and the robot is going to be the best at finding those lymph nodes. “The robot excels in both situations, in that if a patient does not have nodal metastases within the lung, the robot is going to be the best at finding that and establishing that reality, in which case, the patient avoids chemotherapy and radiation,” he says. “In the converse, where nodal metastases exist, where cancer has spread from the site in the lung, the tumor site in the lung to the lymph nodes in the lung or in the mediastinum, then robotics excels the most at finding that. In that case, the patient will benefit from having chemotherapy post-op if they choose to pursue it, and radiation.”

You can hear more from Dr. DeFrain about his experience with minimally invasive heart and lung surgeries using the da Vinci robot by listening to Episode 5 of the “HeartBeats” podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts or at You also may be interested in listening to Episode 14: Patient Story – I Survived Lung Cancer.

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