Michael, a 51-year-old business owner, was a one-pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 30 years who quit in 2017. As someone who enjoyed good health, Michael never worried about his lungs. However, chronic shoulder pain that he attributed to over-exercising and weightlifting began to bother him. On a whim, Michael Googled "causes of shoulder pain" and was surprised when lung cancer came up in the search result.
"Seeing 'lung cancer' made me nervous, and I called my primary care doctor, Dr. William Birenbaum with BJC Medical Group, the next morning." Michael got an immediate appointment with nurse practitioner Bridget Doerr Openlander.
After hearing his symptoms and concerns, followed by an exam, Bridget quickly acted and contacted the Missouri Baptist Medical Center Computed Tomography (CT) Lung Cancer Screening program that screens people for early-stage lung cancer. By using a CT scan, doctors can see inside a patient without cutting, and the exam is painless and takes only a few minutes.
In May 2021, Michael had a low-radiation-dose CT scan that detected three small lesions in his right lung. Because the lesions were too small to biopsy, nurse navigator Bridget Switzer helped Michael make a follow-up appointment for another lung CT scan in three months. When he returned in August, the CT scan results showed that one of the lesions had doubled in size.
Bridget Switzer referred Michael to MoBap cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Austen Hufton who ordered a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, bronchoscopy and biopsy of the lesion. As a nurse navigator, Bridget answered questions and helped Michael coordinate next steps. "Everything was happening quickly, but Bridget and Dr. Hufton put my mind at ease," Michael said.
The biopsy results showed stage 1 non-small cell carcinoma, and the PET scan confirmed the likelihood of cancer.
On September 24, Dr. Hufton performed robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery to remove the upper lobe of Michael's right lung along with 20 lymph nodes. Dr. Hufton explained that this type of surgery requires five small incisions through which a 3D high-definition camera and instruments are inserted. "When using robotic-assisted surgery, we don't have to make large incisions to open the chest, which can help reduce postoperative pain and length of hospitalization," he said.
After surgery, Michael spent four days in the hospital recovering. Because the biopsy on his lymph nodes came back negative for cancer, he did not have to go through chemotherapy or radiation.
Michael is now three months postoperative and is feeling great. He will return for a follow-up lung CT scan in January 2022 and then at six months and yearly after that. "I cannot say enough about the high-quality care I received at MoBap. I'm thankful that everyone acted quickly," he said. "I've heard how screening can save lives with early detection, and I'm an example of that."
Lung Cancer Screening Program
To find out if you or someone you love should be screened for lung cancer, visit www.missouribaptist.org/lung.