A Thoracic Team That Understands

December 29, 2016
Senior couple outdoors

“The screening CT scan for lung cancer is non-invasive and does not require needles or IVs,” explains Keith Mortman, MD, Director of Thoracic Surgery and an Associate Professor of Surgery with the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “It’s important that a CT scan be performed in the context of a larger, multidisciplinary thoracic oncology program, such as we have at GW.” 

The main candidates for low-dose CT screening for lung cancer, he notes, are people who:

  • Are age 55-79
  • Smoked at least one pack a day for 30 years (or its equivalent), or are former smokers who stopped within the past 15 years

During the CT scan, you lie on a table, and the scanner moves around you, taking multiple pictures of your chest. Radiologists view the images to check for enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer, as well as lung nodules, small masses of tissue in the lungs. Even if nodules are found, they may not be cancerous, and further testing may be needed. 

The goal is to detect lung cancer early, when it is more treatable. 

Podcast: Should I Get a Lung Cancer Screening?

Keith D. Mortman, MD, FACS, FCCP, discusses the option for lung cancer screenings of those at high risk of developing the disease in this health education podcast. Since it often has few symptoms until the late stages, this screening can provide critical time for treatment.

Listen to the podcast

In the event that surgery is needed, some seniors may feel apprehensive about undergoing a chest operation, Dr. Mortman acknowledges. “The team at The George Washington University Hospital specializes in a minimally invasive approach. This results in less pain after surgery, shorter hospital stays and a faster return to normal activities.”

With minimally invasive procedures, doctors don’t need to spread the patient’s ribs apart to access the operative area. 

High-definition endoscopes with tiny, powerful cameras enable surgeons to see more detail, and slim tools navigate tight spaces for treatment. This can substantially reduce pain or discomfort associated with conventional surgery.

Along with advances in surgical treatments, there has also been notable progress in the fields of medical and radiation oncology, Dr. Mortman says. These include new, targeted therapies and more precise ways to deliver therapeutic doses of radiation, he notes. 

Smoking is linked to 90 percent* of lung cancers, but there are other risk factors as well, including exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos or radon, as well as a history of receiving high-dose radiation. A study by the National Cancer Institute found that patients who were screened with CT scans showed a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer than those who had chest X-rays.

“For patients who are diagnosed and treated for cancer, there are surveillance protocols we follow to ensure that the patient has the best possible long-term outcome,” Dr. Mortman says. 

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

You're In Good Hands

Patients at The George Washington University Hospital are supported by a dedicated team of professionals, including thoracic surgeons, a thoracic surgical physician assistant, nurse navigator and administrative coordinator. The surgical team is part of a larger, multidisciplinary team that includes: 

  • Oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Pulmonologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Neurologists
  • Nutritionists
  • Rehabilitation Specialists

“These various specialists are, in many cases, world-renowned in their field,” Dr. Mortman says. “Together, we create a treatment plan that is individualized for each patient.” 

Schedule an Appointment

Low-dose CT scans are covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. Schedule an appointment for a low-dose CT screening at GW Hospital.

Learn how to get a screening