Special #LCSM Chat 3/19 starting ~10 AM PDT: Patient’s Experience of Lung Cancer Surgery via Live Tweets

On March 19th, 2015, starting around 10AM PT, UC Davis will be using #LCSM and #UCDVATS hashtags to live tweet the experience of a patient undergoing minimally invasive surgery for lung cancerDavid Tom Cooke, MD, FACS, (@DavidCookeMD) , head of University of California at Davis Thoracic Surgery and #LCSM Co-Founder, explains why:

“Is there a cure for lung cancer?”

I hear this question often.  Many of you know that lung cancer has a five-year survival rate of around 15%.  One reason this rate is so low is because lung cancer patients are rarely diagnosed in early stages of the disease.  The majority of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage (stage III or IV) when the disease has already spread outside the lung.  Currently, only 25% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at stage I or II, although we expect more patients will have their disease caught early by lung cancer screening programs.

The standard of care treatment for the physically fit person with stage I and II lung cancer is surgery, or removal of part of the lung.  The five year survival for someone treated with surgery for Stage I lung cancer is around 80%.  That means 80% of those individuals are effectively cured of their lung cancer.

An 80% cure rate is great news, right?  So why do early stage lung cancer patients hesitate to have lung surgery?  Well, most people don’t know much about lung cancer or ways to treat it effectively.  Forums like #LCSM Chat are leading the charge to disseminate evidence-based information.  But the bottom line is:  people are afraid of surgery.   Patients view thoracic surgery (surgery on the contents of the chest, in this case the lungs) as high risk, with potentially serious complications.  Patients frequently ask me, “Are you going to crack my chest open?”   Their fear can be overwhelming.

The fact is, most early stage lung cancer patients can have surgery without cracking their chest open.  Minimally invasive lung surgery has evolved considerably.  For most stage I lung cancer patients, surgery can be performed with small incisions and a high definition camera, just like most gall bladder surgeries have been done over the past ten years.

This type of surgery for lung cancer is called video-assisted thorascopic surgery (or VATS) (scopic meaning camera, thora or thorax meaning chest).  VATS  results in smaller incisions, a shorter stay in the hospital, less need for pain medicine,  and faster return to work and activities of daily living.  Moreover, VATS has the same survival results as traditional open surgery, where we have to make a larger cut and spread the ribs.

To help people understand what patients experience when they undergo VATS for early stage lung cancer, UC Davis will be  performing a lung cancer surgery live on Twitter starting on March 19, 2015 at around 10 AM PDT (don’t worry, we won’t be tweeting while operating — our public relations people will do the tweeting).   Our patient has a keen interest in education and was excited to volunteer and share her story.  She will undergo a right VATS lower lobectomy (removal of the bottom third of the right lung) for early stage lung cancer.

The focus of this live tweeting will not be the surgery itself.  There are plenty of videos on YouTube that show how to do a VATS lobectomy.  Our tweets will focus on our patient and her experience with the preoperative check in process, operation, and postoperative recovery, as well as the clinical care processes that will support her recovery.  Tweets will also follow her tumor through pathology processing and its trip to the UC Davis biobank.  Our tweets will contain the hashtags #LCSM and #UCDVATS.

Our patient’s case highlights some very important facts:

  1. Surgery for lung cancer has evolved.  Now with minimally invasive approaches, small incisions, and state of the art treatment during and after surgery, we are able to “stack the deck” in our patient’s favor to ensure their successful results.
  2. You only need lungs to get lung cancer.  Our patient is a never smoker, and has no appreciable risk factors.
  3. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women, yet only 1% of women when polled identify this fact (source: American Lung Association),
  4. Up to 80% of patients with stage I of lung cancer (early stage) are cured after treatment.

We hope you’ll follow the hashtags #LCSM or #UCDVATS starting around 10 AM PDT on March 19th to share our patient’s experience of lung cancer surgery at UC Davis.

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