Isabel F Screening for Lung Cancer Makes a Well-Timed Catch

“I have a sign in my kitchen that reads, ‘Grateful. Thankful. Blessed.’ And I truly am.”

With a history of smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and two parents who died from lung cancer, Isabel Ferrari, 60, of Tinton Falls knew she faced a high risk for lung disease. Yet nothing could have prepared her for the actual diagnosis of lung cancer.

“I get choked up just talking about it,” says the property manager and grandmother of 7-year-old twin boys.

Fortunately, Isabel had quit smoking and participates in the Lung Cancer Screening and Lung Nodule Program at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), which entails having regular exams that allow doctors to monitor abnormalities over time. The protocol calls for low-dose CT scans every year unless an abnormality is detected; then scans are done at intervals appropriate for close monitoring of the lesion. This paid off when Isabel was diagnosed in late 2019 with lung cancer that was still in its early stages.

Sharon Weiner, MD
Sharon Weiner, MD

Timely Surgery

Isabel’s serial scans prompted Sharon Weiner, MD, a pulmonologist at Monmouth Medical Center who practices with Monmouth Pulmonary Consultants as a part of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, to focus on changes to a nodule on Isabel’s left lung. Dr. Weiner noticed the nodule began to grow quickly and sent Isabel for additional tests. Isabel got her diagnosis before Christmas. She decided to tell her family the news after the holidays.

“I wanted my daughter to enjoy the holidays, and I wanted to enjoy my grandchildren,” she says.

Andrew Nguyen, MD
Andrew Nguyen, MD

A few weeks after a PET/CT showed no distant spread of disease, surgery was scheduled with Andrew Nguyen, MD, a thoracic surgeon at MMC and member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group who shares the Monmouth Pulmonary Consultants office located on Corbett Way in Eatontown for the convenience of patients who require surgical consultation. He removed the upper lobe of Isabel’s left lung and nearby lymph nodes to appropriately stage the cancer.

In the OR, Dr. Nguyen was assured the borders were clean, and the malignancy was confirmed. Pathologic studies proved the lymph nodes were clear of disease, confirming the surgery was curative and Isabel needed no further treatment. “I opened my eyes in recovery and felt relieved when my daughter gave a thumbs-up,” she says.

“The possibility of removing the cancer and curing her with surgery alone was a lot greater because it was discovered early,” Dr. Nguyen says. “Her prognosis is significantly better than it would be for somebody who has stage two, three or four lung cancer.”

The lesion was small, and Dr. Nguyen could perform the procedure using a surgical robot. This minimally invasive surgery usually leads to a shorter and less painful recovery than more invasive approaches.

Early Catches Save Lives

Detection of lung cancer usually happens late in the game, when chances of a cure are slim.

“Often lung cancer has a bad outcome because the patient comes in at a late stage,” says Dr. Weiner. “If that cancer starts in the middle of a lobe somewhere, that patient may have no symptoms until it’s touching some structure like the airway or causes some obstruction. But if you catch it early, you can cure patients.” That’s why MMC doctors encourage eligible people to schedule a screening.

Lung cancer is not the most common type of cancer in women, but it is the number one cause of cancer related death. “Women coming in in their 40s, 50s and 60s are more tuned into mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap tests,” says Dr. Weiner. “But if you’re a smoker, lung cancer screening with low-dose CTs can save your life.”

Isabel knows how fortunate she is. “I have a sign in my kitchen that reads, ‘Grateful. Thankful. Blessed,’” she says. “And I truly am.”

Team Treatment

A multidisciplinary team of highly trained medical professionals treats patients in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Monmouth Medical Center. These include:

  • Pulmonologists. Evaluate and treat lung disease including cancers; perform diagnostic procedures such as navigational bronchoscopies and EBUS (using ultrasound for biopsies via bronchoscopy); treat lesions with cryotherapy and laser treatments via bronchoscopy
  • Radiologists. Perform and interpret imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans and PET scans.
  • Interventional radiologists. Read radiologic studies and perform CT-guided needle biopsies for diagnosis of lung lesions.
  • Thoracic surgeons. Remove malignancies or suspicious lesions.
  • Oncologists. Direct cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and immunotherapy, and monitor patients for recurrence.
  • Radiation oncologists. Administer radiation treatments.

Are You Eligible for Screening?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently expanded the pool of patients who are candidates for lung cancer screening. They include adults ages 50 to 80 who have a 20-year smoking history and currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years. “If you’re in this high-risk population, it’s recommended that you obtain a low-dose CT scan,” says Andrew Nguyen, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Monmouth Medical Center and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group.

To learn more about lung cancer screening at Monmouth Medical Center, please call 844.CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.