Are You At Risk?

Experts Warn about Early Stages of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the nation’s leading cause of cancer-related death. In observance of National Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, two physicians at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center discussed the latest technology for treatment of lung issues.

Varun Shah, MD
Varun Shah, MD Board-certified Interventional Pulmonologist

Ask the Experts

Varun Shah, MD, is a pulmonologist specializing in interventional pulmonology, critical care medicine and pleural disease. A pulmonologist treats ailments of the lungs and respiratory system such as asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, complicated chest infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, including emphysema. Dr. Shah is fellowship-trained at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York and board certified in interventional pulmonology.

“Interventional pulmonology encompasses both diagnostic and therapeutic intervention of the airways and the pleural space,” Dr. Shah says. “In other words, we examine the lungs via a bronchoscope and do everything we can to help patients breathe.”

Dr. Shah has a special interest in the field of robotic bronchoscopy, which can help diagnose early-stage lung cancer. He is working with the hospital and other physicians to bring new technology to Fort Sanders Regional patients.

He says a patient may see an interventional pulmonologist for reasons other than lung cancer. “If people have a tumor blocking their airway or fluid in the lungs, we aim to find out what’s causing it and determine the correct course of treatment, which includes using modalities to remove the tumor or placing catheters to remove the fluid. Accurate diagnosis is key.”

If surgery is needed, Dr. Shah may also consult with a thoracic surgeon who is focused on surgery of the heart, lungs and chest.

David B. Graham, MD, FACS
David B. Graham, MD, FACS Board-certified Cardiothoracic Surgeon

David B. Graham, MD, FACS, is a fellowship-trained, board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon at Fort Sanders Regional. He has always been fascinated with the heart and lungs because they work together to sustain life. Dr. Graham says, “I treat all types of heart disease, from coronary blockages to valve issues, as well as diseases in the chest cavity. These include lung cancer, fluid buildup, chest wall tumors, pectus [a chest wall disorder], diaphragm paralysis and hernias.”

He adds, “I enjoy talking with patients and their families about their condition and helping determine the best way to get them back to their regular activities.”

Dr. Graham says, “Another aspect of my job that I enjoy is offering forefront surgical techniques in a patient’s care. I have studied less invasive means to perform surgical procedures with robotic assistance. These advancements in thoracic surgery procedures, such as in lung resections for cancer, have helped improve a patient’s recovery.

“I am excited about the future of our cardiothoracic surgery field and the benefits we can help bring to our heart and lung patients here in Knoxville in the years to come.”

Dr. Graham and Dr. Shah work together to give Fort Sanders Regional patients the best care possible through the use of existing and new technology. Both physicians are excited for the future of lung cancer treatment at Fort Sanders Regional and the benefits for the East Tennessee community.

In the meantime, their advice for the community is for tobacco users to stop smoking cigarettes and for smokers to get screened annually for lung cancer.

Dr. Shah adds, “Even if you have quit smoking in the last 10 years, you could still be at risk. It’s important to stay ahead of the game and get that yearly CT scan, which helps with early diagnosis and better outcomes.

“If you are an adult age 50-80 who smoked one pack per day for more than a decade, or if you are a heavy smoker who has quit within the last 15 years, you can get screened for lung cancer, which could be life-saving.”

Facts About Lung Cancer

According to the CDC:

• Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States.

• Each year, about 218,500 people in the United States are told they have lung cancer, and about 142,000 people die from the disease.

• Different people have different symptoms for lung cancer. Symptoms may include persistent coughing, chest pain, wheezing and shortness of breath. Most people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced.

Who Should Get Screened?

As with any form of cancer, early detection is the key to survival. Low-dose CT screening is an effective way to detect lung cancer early. Screening for lung cancer with CT has been demonstrated to reduce lung cancer mortality.

It is always a good idea to seek medical attention if you have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. Signs of advanced lung cancer may include coughing up blood, hoarseness or frequent lung infections.

Contact your doctor if you experience symptoms or meet these criteria:

• Are between the ages of 55-75 and have a tobacco smoking history of 30+ years

• Current smoker or one who has quit smoking within the last 15 years

• Have a written order for LDCT lung cancer screening that meets the above criteria

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