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Sheila G Saving Lives by Spotting Lung Cancer Earlier

“Let’s put it this way: It was the best possible outcome in this scenario,”

It’s game, set, match for Sheila Gabaeff, whose lung cancer was diagnosed early and successfully treated at Somerset Medical Center’s Lung Cancer Institute.

Sheila Gabaeff, 70, of Bridgewater, feels very lucky to have a happy ending. She was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year - but because her doctors caught it early, they were able to successfully treat it.

Traditionally, lung cancer is difficult to treat because it’s typically diagnosed at a later stage, when there are fewer treatment options. But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) finds that regularly screening high-risk people with low-dose CT scans can detect lung cancers earlier, when they’re more treatable. Beginning this fall, these scans will be available at the new Somerset Medical Center Lung Cancer Screening Clinic.

“The evidence for these screenings is so compelling that The Steeplechase Cancer Center wants to make this potentially lifesaving test available to all at-risk people in Central New Jersey,” says pulmonologist Stephen Einreinhofer, DO, chief of pulmonary medicine at Somerset Medical Center and affiliate of the hospital’s Lung Cancer Institute.

Early Detection Improves Treatment
Gabaeff’s tale began in December, with a cough that wouldn’t go away. In January, a CT scan of her lungs revealed a suspicious spot.

Thoracic surgeons Jean-Phillipe Bocage, MD, chair of the Lung Cancer Institute at Somerset Medical Center’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, and Robert J. Caccavale, MD, confirmed Gabaeff’s tumor was cancer and removed it during one procedure - video-assisted thoracic surgery, or VATS. This minimally invasive procedure, which requires only four small incisions in the chest, is less painful and the recovery is faster than with open surgery. Like most other patients who undergo this procedure, Gabaeff went home from the hospital the next day.

“She had the whole experience of cancer diagnosis and treatment here at The Steeplechase Cancer Center,” says Jill Steck, RN, lung patient navigator at Somerset Medical Center, who guides lung cancer patients through the process of treatment and recovery.
Because Gabaeff’s cancer was stage 1, she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. “Let’s put it this way: It was the best possible outcome in this scenario,” says Gabaeff.

Screenings Offer New Hope
Not all lung cancer patients are so fortunate. About 95 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year die from the disease. But soon, more patients in Central New Jersey may have stories like Gabaeff’s. “If we screen and diagnose early-stage cancer, the patient has a much better chance for survival,” says Katrina Losa, RN, director of The Steeplechase Cancer Center.

The new clinic will offer CT scans of the chest using low doses of radiation. According to the NEJM study, getting the low-dose CT scan annually detected 85 percent of very early-stage lung cancers in high-risk patients. “When followed by prompt surgical removal, such as the procedure Ms. Gabaeff underwent, the 10-year survival rate is 92 percent,” Dr. Bocage says.

Patients who are at high risk for lung cancer can talk with their doctors about the screening. With a prescription, they can visit the Lung Cancer Screening Clinic annually for testing. High-risk patients include those age 50 or older who smoke or used to smoke heavily.
Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer. “However, living in Central New Jersey also presents a number of environmental factors, like pollution and radon exposure, which can have an impact on the onset of lung cancer,” Dr. Bocage says.

For Gabaeff, the prognosis is excellent and she even expects to be back on the tennis courts this fall. She is grateful to the physicians and nurses who detected and treated her cancer, and hopeful that the new clinic will give more patients the chance to feel the same way.

For more information about low-dose CT screening for lung cancer, visit www.SteeplechaseCancerCenter.com/lung. Those who are at a higher risk for lung cancer and wish to inquire about low-dose CT screenings can also call Somerset Medical Center’s Lung Cancer Screening Clinic at 908-927-8778.


Love Your Lungs
Join Deborah Morosini, MD, sister of the late Dana Reeves, for a discussion on lung cancer and hear her message of hope. To register, call 908-203-6234.