The Benefits of Minimally Invasive Surgical Options for Lung Cancer

A diagnosis of lung cancer can leave you and your loved ones with a lot of questions, as well as fears. What treatment options are available? How will you recover? What will your quality of life be like?

For lung cancer patients, there is good news on the horizon. Recent innovations in minimally invasive surgical approaches are presenting more positive outcomes than what has been available in the past.

How is a minimally invasive approach different from traditional lung cancer surgery? And what benefits are patients seeing, as a result?

Traditional Approach to Lung Cancer Surgery

Unfortunately, this approach, known as a thoracotomy for lobectomy of the lung –in which the cancerous anatomical portion of the lung is removed – puts pressure on the ribs, as well as the underlying nerves causing significant pain for patients during recovery and for some patients, the pain is permanent. Moreover, this pain puts patients at increased risk for post-surgical health issues, including pneumonia.

How the Minimally Invasive Approach Works

Instead of relying upon one large incision and spreading the ribs, a minimally invasive approach only requires a few small incisions in which a camera and small surgical instruments are inserted.

Benefits for Lung Cancer Patients

Minimally invasive surgery translates into less pain for patients, as well as shorter recovery/healing time. This not only allows patients to return home within a day or two of their procedure, they are also able to return to their normal lives and routines with greater speed. This decreased recovery window enables doctors to administer follow-up treatments sooner.

Patients that might otherwise have been considered ineligible for surgery now have a new minimally invasive treatment option available to them. For example, patients with diminished lung function or emphysema – who might not have been eligible for more traditional surgical approaches – now can be considered for minimally invasive surgery.

Start by Having a Conversation

Don’t write off surgery. Given the advancements for lung cancer patients available today, talk to your doctor, you may have more options than you realize.

As a surgeon, I find it very rewarding to see a patient after surgery. They often look like they haven't had an operation and in a few cases, patients say they feel like they haven't even had an operation at all. With the minimally invasive approaches, they have a minimal amount of pain and recovery. What could be better than that?

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.

Minimally Invasive Surgical Options for Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is found in the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It can occur at any point on that route and will be treated differently depending on its location and severity.

While the treatment for esophageal cancer has changed drastically over the decades, recent trends have seen the treatment options shift from highly invasive and destructive procedures to more minimally invasive procedures designed to uphold the patient's health and well-being throughout treatment.

Treatment Options for Various Types of Esophageal Cancer

Over the last several decades, adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer near the stomach) has become more widespread.

Unfortunately, because of the widespread availability of over-the-counter acid reflux medications, patients may not ever know they have this type of cancer and may write their chronic acid reflux off as nothing to worry about.

Cancer can present very few or no symptoms, so in most cases, patients with esophageal cancer don't know they have the disease until it's in an advanced stage. In many instances, esophageal cancer is diagnosed by accident when it has reached an advanced stage. At one point the only available treatment for late stage patients was a highly invasive" open case" treatment which involve large incisions in the abdominal and chest cavities), with a 50 percent risk of complications and chronic pain.

Fortunately, minimally invasive procedures are available that offer minimal pain, fast healing and the ability to go home and eat normally, rather than through feeding tubes.

Procedures for Early-Stage Patients

On the other hand, patients with very early-stage cancers can avoid to the removal of their esophagus, and instead only remove a portion of the tissue around the cancer, leaving the remainder of the stomach and esophagus without damaging the nerves or the valve that prevents reflux.

On the other hand, patients with later stages will need to remove more extensive amounts of tissue including the nerves to the stomach. While patients will have reflux and potential long-term stomach issues, it is a life-saving procedure for many.

Patients who have had previous open operations will still be able to access minimally invasive approaches, although it may take longer and be more challenging because of scar tissue.

What Minimally Invasive Options Mean for Patient Care

Minimally invasive surgery is the preferred, and often the best option vs. an open method. In addition to providing a faster healing time, minimally invasive procedures may offer a better cancer outcome than more invasive open approaches. Though doctors aren't exactly sure why this is true, it could be attributed to the fact that minimally invasive procedures minimize damage and are less stressful on the body during recovery.

It should be noted that minimally invasive surgical options are not the right course of action for all esophageal cancer patients. However, they can go a long way toward minimizing damage and expediting the healing process for these patients.

Looking Ahead

While further treatment options are sure to be developed in coming years, the current treatment options show great promise to patients and their families who are struggling through the murky waters of esophageal cancer and its many invasive and minimally invasive treatment options.

Between better outcomes and faster recovery times, it's easy to see why minimally invasive treatment options are becoming so popular among patients today.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.

Early Detection, Robotic Surgery Help Cancer Patient Avoid Radiation

As a loving husband and devoted father, Earl always took his physical health seriously. He never smoked, scheduled annual physicals and went to the dentist regularly. He was doing everything he could to ensure that he would always be there for his family.

When his daughter complained of a sore throat one day, it's no surprise that Earl jumped at the chance to make it a teachable moment. He explained to his daughter that swollen lymph nodes often accompany a sore throat. As he was showing her how to check her lymph nodes, he noticed that a lymph node on the left side of his neck was enlarged.

While Earl thought this was odd, he decided to wait to talk to his doctor at his upcoming physical, which was just a few weeks away. At his physical, in early November, Earl's primary care physician confirmed that the left neck lymph node was enlarged and required a closer look.

A biopsy was scheduled for early January.

Earl's Diagnosis and Surgery

By the end of January, the results were back — Earl was officially diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer that had spread into his lymph node. Earl's primary care physician directed him to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, who identified the primary cancer site at the base of his tongue. The ENT recommended immediate treatment and provided Earl with the names of several specialists in the DC area.

After researching these surgeons online, Earl chose to work with Stanley Chia, MD, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

At this appointment, Dr. Chia evaluated Earl's throat to confirm the primary cancer site was located at the left base of his tongue. He then ordered a PET-CT to make sure the cancer was isolated to only the tongue base and the lymph node in the left neck.

Once it was confirmed that the cancer had not spread beyond the lymph node, Dr. Chia explained to Earl that he was a prime candidate for robotic surgery. The base of tongue can be difficult to reach with standard surgical techniques, and the robotic approach is ideally suited to this approach. Surgery to remove the lymph nodes from the left side of his neck would be performed simultaneously.

Surgery was set for April 4, which was ideal timing for Earl, because it allowed him to keep his plans to spend his daughter's spring break with his family.

While Earl was nervous as his surgery date approached, he was pleased that Dr. Chia took the time to explain the process and answer all his questions, such as "What kind of scarring should I expect?" and "What are the side effects of surgery?"

Surgery was a success. Earl was able to talk the same day as his surgery. He began eating the day after surgery, and within a few weeks, Earl was eating normally again.

Evaluating His Treatment Options

While surgery was a success, Earl knew that he now had to determine if he would continue on with radiation treatment. Fortunately, the biopsy from surgery showed that the cancer was HPV positive, which meant it had a better prognosis than traditional smoking-related cancers. The biopsy report also confirmed that the surgery had successfully removed the cancerous cells in the tongue and neck.

Standard treatment for head and neck cancers after surgery often includes radiation treatment or even chemotherapy. Earl discussed his treatment options with Dr. Chia and Adedamola Omogbehin, MD, on the radiation team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and even sought a second opinion.

After evaluating all his options and taking a close look at the side effects associated with radiation treatment, Earl decided to forgo further treatment. He attributes his ability to avoid radiation treatment to early detection, as well as the success of his robotic surgery.

Looking Ahead

Today, Earl is glad to be a cancer survivor, and he has a new outlook on life. He says that the whole process happened very quickly, but that he was very happy with the honest and accurate information provided by Dr. Chia and Dr. Omogbehin.

Earl encourages others to pay close attention to their own personal health and not to be fooled into thinking it can't happen to them. He urges other to be proactive and to get anything that seems odd checked out as soon as possible.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.

How to Choose the Right Prostate Surgeon

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, surgery might be the best treatment for you, especially in younger men less than 65 years old who have higher risk disease and overall good health. But, before you undergo an operation, you need to feel confident that you are using a surgeon you can trust.

Read on to learn what factors you should consider, as well as what you should avoid, when choosing the right prostate surgeon.

Factors You Should Consider

When it comes to choosing a prostate surgeon, experience is the primary concern. While there is no "magic number" of years a doctor needs to have practiced necessarily, one who has performed prostate surgery hundreds of times is better able to put your mind at ease than someone who does not perform prostate cancer surgery very often. A doctor who has had extra fellowship training focusing on prostate cancer treatment is beneficial, too.

Additionally, a multidisciplinary team can help you get the best treatment. Since the decision between surgery and radiation is not always black and white for patients, the surgeon you choose should offer a consultation with a radiation oncologist to determine if radiation is the better option.

Red Flags to Avoid

First and foremost, avoid a surgeon who seems to push or market the surgery they offer. Also, if they say they can do the surgery tomorrow or next week, it’s probably because they are not very busy and don’t do many surgeries.

It is always wise to ask the doctor about patient outcomes. If the surgeon cannot answer or doesn’t know, this is a concern. It indicates that they do not engage with patients enough during their journey beyond treatment, and are not following their own outcomes. In short, these surgeons simply can’t know what they don’t know. Similarly, if you meet with a doctor who quotes outcomes that seem too good to be true, they probably are.

For example, if a surgeon claims that 95 percent of all patients have no trouble with erectile function after surgery, he is probably not giving you an honest or realistic picture of typical outcomes, or outcomes specific to your condition. They may only be considering young men with low-risk disease and good preoperative erectile function, who also have bilateral nerve sparing to preserve erections.

These patients realistically only consist of about half of men seeking treatment.

Why Your Prostate Surgeon Choice Matters

Prostate cancer surgery is not a procedure that can be done well by just any surgeon, especially when it comes to preserving your long-term health. Nearly any urologist can remove the prostate safely, but there may be side effects that reduce quality of life in the long run. For example, surgery can not only affect erectile function, but it can also disturb urinary function, depending on the surgeon’s skill.

So don't let the pressure of a prostate cancer diagnosis rush you through this decision-making process; take your time and make the right choice. See as many practitioners as you can to explore all of your treatment options and gather as much information as possible before you get prostate cancer treatment.

Also, remember that there is a lot of misinformation about prostate cancer out there. For example, a common misconception heard in our clinics is: “I didn’t think prostate cancer could kill me."

This is simply not true, as it remains the second leading cause of cancer death in men. It is, however, generally slow-growing if caught in time. So there is time to make the correct decision for you, which may even be no treatment at all.

While prostate cancers may be slow-growing — which is why you don’t need to make a treatment decision in one day — avoiding treatment altogether is not recommended without expert guidance and input from a trained doctor or surgeon. At the same time, some low-risk cases require no treatment at all. So do your research and be mindful of your choice in prostate surgeon, and you'll increase your chances of positive outcomes.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.