The American Cancer Society estimates more than 7,100 Georgians will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. It is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, accounting for more victims than the next three most prevalent cancers (colon, breast and pancreas) combined.
At Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, lung cancer is one of the most frequently treated types of cancer. The hospital is a leader in lung cancer surgery. According to the Georgia Department of Community Health Annual Hospital Questionnaire, Northside Hospital Atlanta has performed the most robotic surgeries among all hospital facilities in the state of Georgia. In U.S. News and World Report’s 2018-19 Best Hospital rankings, Northside ranked “High Performing” in lung cancer surgery. Northside also has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Lung Cancer Disease Specific Care (DSC) certification and is designated as a Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology.
“The vast majority of patients don’t show up to see a doctor until the cancer is advanced stage and there’s significantly limited amounts of things we can do at that point,” said Dr. Howard Silverboard, pulmonologist and physician lead for the Lung Cancer DSC Program at Northside. “Screening for early detection is key in improving the odds in the fight against lung cancer.”
Northside Hospital Cancer Institute offers a comprehensive continuum of lung cancer care – from low-dose CT (computer tomography) lung cancer screening and other diagnostic procedures to detect lung cancer, to a full range of treatment options including minimally invasive robotic and advanced technologies that yield some of the most successful results in the country.
26, pregnant, and a cancer diagnosisAt 26 years old, Molly Bruce, of Lawrenceville, was six-months pregnant with her first child, when suddenly her pregnancy became anything but typical. She began coughing up blood.
A chest X-Ray revealed a nodule on Molly’s left lung, and a subsequent CT scan identified the nodule as a mass. A bronchoscopy would need to be performed in order to discover the nature of the tumor, but Molly’s doctors were concerned that an invasive procedure like that would be too much stress for her body. The decision was made to wait until after she gave birth and regained her strength.
As Molly grew increasingly worried about her condition, she met with Dr. Shady Eldaif, thoracic surgeon and chief of surgery at Northside, to explore her options.
“Dr. Eldaif made me feel at ease about my condition from the get-go,” said Molly. “But the moment I knew he really cared about me and my wellbeing was when he walked into my hospital room at Northside to congratulate us on the birth of our first child.”
Three months after the discovery of the tumor, Molly gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, whom she and her husband named Finley.
Two weeks later, she underwent a bronchoscopy. The procedure showed the tumor sat dangerously close to one of Molly’s primary arteries; therefore, a biopsy was not a viable option. Instead, the entire mass would need to be surgically removed.
Dr. Eldaif was able to remove the tumor and part of the left upper lobe without any complication, and drastically reduced Molly’s recovery time by performing a precise, robot-assisted procedure.
“We have an exceptional level of expertise as part of our team that allows us to take care of the simplest thoracic procedures to more complex and sophisticated cases in the least invasive ways, translating to the best results a patient can have,” said Dr. Eldaif.
“I have never been a smoker”
Lab results later revealed that Molly’s mass was a carcinoid tumor, a type of slow-growing cancer that can form in several places throughout the body.
While research shows that smoking is responsible for more than 80 percent of all lung cancers, approximately 16 percent of adults (age 18 and up) continue to smoke. Former smokers make up 60 percent of diagnosed lung cancers, while 20 percent are current smokers and 20 percent have never smoked (secondhand smoke).
“I have never been a smoker,” said Molly. “I was surprised with my diagnosis due to my history of not being a smoker, but I quickly learned that smoking is not necessarily a risk factor for carcinoid tumors.”
“Additional offenders include secondhand smoke, genetic factors, air pollution, radon and occupational exposure through asbestos and certain chemicals and variables,” said Dr. John Moore, chief of thoracic surgery at Northside.
A small portion of lung cancers occurs in people with no known risk factors for the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Some of these might just be random events that do not have an outside cause, but others might be due to factors that we don’t yet know about.
Lung cancers in non-smokers are often different in some ways from those that occur in smokers. They tend to occur at younger ages and they often have certain gene changes that are different from those in tumors from smokers. In some cases, these changes can be used to guide treatment.
“If you experience chest pain, unexplained weight loss, difficulty breathing or new-onset wheezing, or are coughing up blood, see a physician right away,” said Dr. Moore. “While these symptoms often are caused by something much simpler than cancer, if it is lung cancer, getting treatment right away may mean a better outcome.”
Molly, who works as a nurse practitioner, says that even though her lung cancer was not linked to smoking, she consistently promotes smoking cessation to any of her patients who smoke.
“I now know what it’s like to receive a cancer diagnosis, so if there is anything I can do to influence others to possibly prevent being diagnosed with cancer, I will do that,” she said.
Luckily, for Molly, her tumor was caught in its early stages. According to Dr. Eldaif, her symptoms were likely caused by the additional strain of the pregnancy. Had Molly not been pregnant with Finley, the tumor may have gone unnoticed for years.
Today, Molly is cancer-free and enjoys spending time with her husband and two-year-old Finley on their boat at Lake Lanier.
“Being pregnant at the same time as being diagnosed with cancer, while scary, actually made the whole process easier for me because I had Finley to look forward to.” Molly said. “I’m so grateful for Dr. Eldaif and all the Northside staff for the time, care and energy they put in to make sure we both came out healthy on the other side.”
*The health stories shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.