Teresa Nocentino quit smoking back in 1989 and more recently started running with the goal of completing a triathlon.
But she still worried how 18 years of tobacco use had damaged her lungs. When she learned of Virtua Health’s lung cancer screening program, she spoke to her doctor and they agreed that she should have the test.
Thanks to Teresa’s proactive approach and diligent monitoring, her early-stage lung cancer was successfully detected and treated.
Early Detection Made the Difference
Based on Teresa’s smoking history and age — as well as her family history of cancer — she met the lung screening criteria. The screening is a non-invasive, painless imaging test performed using low-dose radiation computed tomography (LDCT) technology, also called a low-dose CT scan.
Teresa’s scan revealed a 5-millimeter nodule, a small spot on the lung. In 90 percent of cases, nodules of that size are non-cancerous. Her doctor recommended regular monitoring and screenings every six months to make sure the nodule did not change or grow.
“I was surprised, but not overly concerned at that point,” said Teresa, a longtime neonatal intensive care nurse at Virtua Voorhees Hospital. “And I was glad I had the screening. It is better to know about a nodule, and keep track of it, than find out about it when it’s too late for effective treatment.”
Virtua’s lung screening nurse navigator, Lyn Sheely, RN, helped Teresa stay on track with her follow-up screenings. But in July 2018, after four years of monitoring, Teresa’s scan showed a change.
Virtua’s unique nurse navigation program provides an encouraging and consistent resource for patients. “When a lung nodule is detected, it’s so important to stay on top of your screening schedule,” Lyn advised. “Keep in contact with your pulmonologist and be your own advocate. Ask questions until you have all of your bases covered.”
Teresa met with Virtua thoracic surgeon Walter Boris, DO, who is part of the Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program. “Dr. Boris is the absolute best,” Teresa said. “He took the time to explain all of my test results and treatment options. He made me feel like I really mattered.”
Dr. Boris explained that although it would be possible to remove the nodule surgically, its location made it difficult to do a typical wedge procedure. This type of procedure removes the nodule and a small, wedge-shaped portion of lung tissue. Instead, Dr. Boris recommended a lung-sparing, minimally invasive approach called a lingual-sparing upper lobectomy.
“Teresa’s lung function was good because she takes care of her health and had been a nonsmoker for many years,” Dr. Boris said. “I was very conscious of her fitness lifestyle and wanted to give her the best options to preserve as much of the lung as possible.”
Dr. Boris and his colleague, Virtua thoracic surgeon Matthew Puc, MD, successfully removed Teresa’s nodule and several lymph nodes using a technique called video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). The biopsy confirmed that Teresa had stage 1 adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer. Thankfully, due to early detection, Teresa’s lymph nodes did not show any signs of the cancer spreading.
Back in the Race
Today, at age 62, Teresa says she feels great. Supported by her family, she faithfully goes every six months to have her lungs checked. Dr. Boris says that Teresa’s lung function is better than ever.
“Just eight months after surgery, I competed in a triathlon and placed third in my age group. I also skied in Telluride, Colorado, without any altitude issues,” Teresa said. “If it weren’t for that lung screening, I would have been sitting here today with progressing lung cancer – and not even know it. I’m so grateful to the team at Virtua.”
Scheduling a Lung Screening
To learn more about Virtua’s lung screening program and eligibility criteria, or to request a screening, visit virtua.org/LungScreening. Lung cancer screenings are covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid. Virtua also offers reduced rates for patients without insurance coverage.