Test catches cancer before symptoms show – when it's most curable
Ventura Vincente of Basking Ridge (second in from the right), was treated for lung cancer by (remaining left to right) Joon Minn, MD, Radiologist at Clara Maass Medical Center; Robert Picciano, MD, Internal Medicine, Clara Maass Medical Center; and Alpesh Amin, MD, Medical Oncologist, Clara Maass Medical Center; after discovering an abnormal spot on one lung during a free lung screening at the Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center.
Ventura Vicente had no sign that a silent killer was lurking inside him. But thanks to a free screening program at Clara Maass Medical Center, the tumor in his right lung was caught early – before Ventura had any symptoms – and he was successfully treated.
"I'm very happy and relieved; it's a weight off my shoulders," says the 72-year-old Basking Ridge resident.
"Now he's a spitfire again!" says daughter-in-law Maria Vicente. "We're all thankful that the free screening was offered to him. Everyone at Clara Maass took an aggressive approach to get him in and get him well."
Ventura learned about the new screening program during a routine doctor visit. His primary-care physician, Robert Picciano, MD, knew Ventura had smoked heavily for many years, which put him at high risk for lung cancer. So Dr. Picciano referred him to The Cancer Center at Clara Maass, one of the few local programs to offer free lung screenings. There, staff members performed a low-dose CT scan of his lungs – a quick, easy test that takes multiple x-rays and merges them into detailed images.
"The screening program works very well," says Dr. Picciano. "It's easy for physicians to order the test, and Clara Maass provides the results quickly."
If Ventura had waited until symptoms appeared – like coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain or hoarseness – his chances of survival would be lower, and he'd likely need more invasive treatment.
"Statistics show a 25 percent reduction in mortality if patients receive this kind of early detection," notes Dr. Picciano. When cancer is caught later, it's had more time to grow and spread – making it more deadly, he explains.
"Lung cancer screening for this patient proved to be life-saving," says Clara Maass thoracic surgeon Justin Sambol, MD.
After Ventura's screening showed an abnormal spot in one lung, he underwent an outpatient biopsy, done with local anesthesia, to take a sample of the suspicious area and diagnose the cancer.
Clara Maass also offers a new type of biopsy called ENB™ (Electromagnetic Navigation Bronchoscopy®), which reaches deeper inside the lung to locate small lesions (see sidebar). Ventura had a PET scan as well, which indicated his cancer had not spread beyond his lung.
Clara Maass' team of cancer specialists carefully evaluated Ventura's situation and recommended robotic surgery to remove the tumor.
"Robotic surgery allows us to work more safely in delicate areas," says Dr. Sambol. That's because the robotic equipment provides a highly magnified, three-dimensional view, he explains, and the instruments enable very fine motions in tiny areas.
However, not all lung cancers should be removed robotically, notes Dr. Sambol, who performed Ventura's surgery. "It's important to have all the options," he says, including regular minimally invasive (thoracoscopic) surgery and traditional open procedures. All three are available at Clara Maass.
Although Ventura was naturally worried, "he got a lot of support from Dr. Picciano and the specialists at Clara Maass, including the pulmonologist and oncologist," says Maria.
"It's so critical to patients to have a multidisciplinary approach," she adds, "and for the physicians to communicate with each other for the best interests of the patient. Everyone at Clara Maass is such a team player, from the front desk staff to the doctors and surgeons."
Ventura healed quickly after his operation, requiring only four days in the hospital. "The recovery time was so much better than we expected," Maria recalls. "By the second day, he was sitting up in a chair and feeling reasonably well. Within a week of going home, he felt 100 percent."
"I feel great. I'm energized. The scars have healed nicely," says Ventura, a retired construction foreman.
The father and grandfather was also relieved to not need chemotherapy or radiation – likely because his cancer was caught so early.
Three months after surgery, a follow-up CT scan showed no sign of cancer, so doctors cleared Ventura for his annual trip to his native Portugal, where he and his wife spend half of each year. Ventura will receive another CT scan when he returns to New Jersey in the spring.
"This has been a godsend for all of us," says Maria. "We thank everyone involved in Ventura's care."
Ventura Vincente of Basking Ridge (second in from the left), was treated for lung cancer by (remaining left to right) Joon Minn, MD, Radiologist at Clara Maass Medical Center; Ventura Vincente of Basking Ridge; Robert Picciano, MD, Internal Medicine, Clara Maass Medical Center; and Alpesh Amin, MD, Medical Oncologist, Clara Maass Medical Center; after discovering an abnormal spot on one lung during a free lung screening at the Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center.
For more information about free lung cancer screenings or The Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center, please call 973-844-4166.
Do You Qualify for a Free Lung Cancer Screening?
If you answer yes to either of the following questions, you may be eligible for this potentially life-saving screening at Clara Maass:
- Are you a current or former smoker age 55 - 74 with a history of at least 30 "pack years" or more? A pack year is the number of packs smoked per day, multiplied by the number of years smoked.
- Are you a current or former smoker age 50+ with a history of at least 20 pack years or more, and with other risk factors? These include:
- exposure to radon, asbestos or cancer-causing agents in the environment
- significant exposure to second-hand smoke
- a diagnosis of COPD or emphysema
- a first-degree relative who has had lung cancer
To determine your eligibility or schedule a screening, please call The Cancer Center at 973-844-4166.