Published on February 07, 2014

Lung cancer treatment at Mercy Philadelphia

Lung cancer symptoms can be silent.

That’s why Mercy Philadelphia offers early lung-cancer screening.

Lynvi RickettsIt started with shoulder pain for Lynvi Ricketts: radiating pain from both shoulders that did not subside. At first, the 75-year-old Philadelphia man tried to ignore it. “I don’t like to take painkillers, so I thought I could just live with it,” says Lynvi. “But this pain just became unbearable. It finally got so bad that I could not lift my hands above my head. I went to so many different doctors about it, but nothing seemed to be getting done.”

Finally, his doctor sent him to have an X-ray at Mercy Philadelphia. It was an X-ray that would save his life.

“The X-ray came back saying I had a small nodule on the right lung,” says Lynvi. “The doctor called me the very next day. He said he had talked with the surgeon and they both confirmed it was a growth. They told me it was small, and I was very lucky it hadn’t spread.”

Doctors knew they had to treat the lung cancer growth as soon as possible: Surgery was scheduled for five days later; Mercy Philadelphia thoracic surgeon Jose M. Maquilan, MD, removed the growth from Lynvi’s right lung on December 4. Dr. Maquilan gives high praise to Lynvi’s doctors for sending him for that X-ray. Mercy Philadelphia works in partnership with primary care doctors, who are often the very first step in getting a treatment plan set up for patients.

“These primary-care doctors are a crucial link in the process,” says Dr. Maquilan. “They are the ones who first send patients in to be screened.”

Are you a smoker? Get tested for lung cancer

Lynvi smoked off and on in his life. “When you are young, you do things that you never stop to think about,” he muses. “But I would tell any young person today not to pick up smoking, because I know all the pain and agony that comes with it.”

In fact, he now encourages anybody who thinks they might have lung cancer to get tested as part of Mercy Philadelphia’s new Healthy Lung program.

The new program, which launched in January, allows those who may be at risk for lung cancer to be screened specifically for the disease using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) at Mercy Philadelphia. Before the Healthy Lung program launched, early-stage lung cancer was often only found incidentally, or while a patient was being examined for another medical issue, such as chest pain. But in most cases, lung cancer was found too late to have a chance of being cured.

“We’re really trying to make screening of lung cancer more like annual mammograms for breast cancer: By encouraging people to have screenings and catching it early, we can make a difference,” says Sue LaSalle, RN, a cancer nurse navigator at Mercy Philadelphia.

As a nurse navigator, Sue is there for patients throughout their treatment.
“I call patients after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I keep saying, ‘We’re here for you, do you have any questions?’” says Sue. “If they have a biopsy, I walk them through what will happen. I educate them about their medications. A lot of times when people are informed about their cancer, it’s not as scary.”

‘Thank God I am here today’

Just before the holidays, Lynvi received a call from Dr. Maquilan with good news: They had gotten the tumor while it was still small and had not spread. Doctors removed all traces of it from his lung tissue. He would not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation.

As for now, Lynvi is focused on getting stronger every day.

“I’m getting back to being myself,” he says. “Mercy wasted no time in treating this. Thank God I am here today and here to talk about it. I can really say I’m lucky.

CT Screenings for Lung Cancer: Why it Works

Chest X-rays have long been the most common way to detect lung cancer. But by the time it was found, lung tumors had already grown and it was often too late.

“Once the lung cancer has spread to other organs, average survival is approximately 6 months,” explains Oleg Teytelboym, MD, a radiologist at Mercy Philadelphia.

But now doctors at Mercy are using low-dose CT scans to find lung cancer in its earliest stages – when it is the most receptive to treatment.

Mercy decided to offer the screenings after the results of a National Cancer Institute study. The study looked at heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 74: Half of the participants received CT scans and the other half received traditional X-rays. The findings, published in 2011, were startling: Those who had received low-dose CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received chest X-rays.

It was more than enough for both the American Cancer Society and the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) to recommend lung cancer CT screenings for people most likely to get the disease: Long-term smokers between the ages 55 to 80.

“With the CT scan, you can catch cancer when it’s so small and so early that you are able to cure it,” says Dr. Teytelboym.