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How to catch lung cancer early before it spreads

Lankenau Medical Center January 25, 2022 Cancer

In 2020, Monique Seyler was due for a lung cancer screening—but with so much going on in the world, she decided to postpone it.

"Because of COVID, I didn't want to take any extra chances," she says. "I didn't have any symptoms, so I thought I was fine."

Although Monique, 65, was still on the fence about going to the hospital for a screening as the pandemic stretched on, she finally scheduled a CT scan at Bryn Mawr Hospital in January 2021. Getting a low-dose CT scan is how to catch lung cancer early, before it has a chance to metastasize (spread). Monique was shocked to find that a small spot detected on her lung in 2018 had grown three times in size.

Lung cancer diagnosis and treatment plan

Doctors weren't certain what the nodule on her lung was, but they knew there was a high chance it was cancerous, given Monique's medical history. She had been a smoker for 50 years, and her mother had lung cancer.

Monique went to Kareem Ibrahim, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Lankenau Medical Center who specializes in minimally invasive robotic surgeries. Dr. Ibrahim started by removing a small piece of the lung, including the 1.7-centimeter nodule, and doing a biopsy in the operating room. After confirming it was in fact cancerous, he removed the rest of the left upper lobe.

He then took out a few lymph nodes from Monique's chest to make sure the cancer had not spread. Fortunately, all of her nodes were negative for cancer, so she didn't require chemotherapy or radiation. The lung cancer was caught while it was still in stage 1, when it's easiest to treat.

Robotic-assisted lung cancer surgery

There are major benefits of robotic-assisted surgeries, according to Dr. Ibrahim. "For patients, there's less pain, easier recovery, smaller incisions, shorter hospital stays, less blood loss and better results in general," he says. "For surgeons, it gives better accuracy and precision."

Monique wasn't familiar with robotic surgery before her diagnosis, but she's glad to have had access to the treatment. "I feel blessed that the technology exists," she says. "In the past, the alternative would have been to open up my whole chest, and it would've been a more invasive procedure. This technology is miraculous in what it can achieve—we're lucky we have it right here."

The technology is game-changing. Main Line Health utilizes a robotic-assisted platform that enables the surgeon to locate nodules, perform a biopsy and remove them all in one minimally invasive procedure.

How to catch lung cancer early: Screening (it saves lives)

Although it hasn't been an easy year for Monique, recovery is going well. "I walk several miles a day, and that has helped," she says. "My blood oxygen level is higher than some athletes at Villanova!"

She's grateful she didn't put her screening off another year—by that time, the cancer may have become much more aggressive.

"Screening is very important to find cancers before they become untreatable," Dr. Ibrahim says. "Even during a pandemic, we shouldn't skip screenings and routine health care—diseases don't take a break during a pandemic."

Understanding how to catch lung cancer early may just save your life. Get screened for lung cancer today.

Main Line Health Cancer Care provides compassionate care through all stages of cancer treatment, from diagnosis through survivorship, for patients throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. To schedule an appointment with a cancer specialist at Main Line Health, 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or request an appointment online.