Thoracic Surgeon at Silver Cross on a Mission To Spread the Word about Early Lung Cancer Screening
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month over, Dr. Gillian Alex, a fellowship-trained thoracic surgeon on staff at Silver Cross Hospital, wants everyone to know there’s another serious health issue in our community that doesn’t get nearly as much attention. And like mammograms, there’s a screening test available to help.
“Lung cancer is the Number 1 cancer killer in the U.S.,” said Dr. Alex, formerly Chief Resident of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Program at Rush University Medical Center. She joined the medical staff of Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox Sept. 1. “Most cases are diagnosed as ‘late stage,’ with more than half found while patients are being examined for other diseases or illnesses.”
Dr. Alex is on a mission to educate the community that a simple, painless and quick CT scan can save lives.
Born in Boston, she attended medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston before completing her general surgery residency at Rush. During her residency, she became “fascinated” with all types of thoracic oncology (cancer care), including esophageal cancer and mesothelioma.
She also spent considerable time studying reports showing just how powerful early intervention is in the fight against lung cancer deaths.
Compared to those diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and a 6 percent survival rate at five years, individuals diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer have a 92.5 percent survival rate for the same time period.
The high mortality rate for lung cancer is due to several factors, she said, including that there hasn’t been a push for screening until about eight years ago. Along with that, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for the screening, but now they do for those who are in the high-risk category:
- Age 55 – 77
- At least a 30 pack-year smoking history, and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
- OR persons 50 years or older who have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history
A simple CT scan available at Silver Cross Hospital can detect lung cancer at its earliest stages, when it’s most curable. In fact, in 2011, a major U.S. clinical trial showed a 20% reduction in lung cancer mortality. What’s more, Dr. Alex said studies show scans have drastically reduced mortality rates for both men and women.
“You need to screen 320 people for lung cancer to prevent 1 lung cancer death,” she adds. “Compare that to breast cancer where 1,339 women need to be screened before preventing one breast cancer death.”
Sadly, while an estimated 7 million Americans are eligible for lung cancer screening, Dr. Alex said fewer than 4 percent have taken advantage of screening.
She says that’s likely due to fear of radiation and lung cancer screening being a relatively new recommendation, offered in within the past 10 years, and only recently covered by most insurance and Medicare.
So, she wants to get the word out to those who qualify to check with their insurers and come in to Silver Cross Hospital for a CT lung scan.
In addition to early lung cancer screening, Dr. Alex’s clinical interests including esophageal cancer, mediastinal disease, thymic disease, chest wall tumors, reflux, benign and malignant pleural disease, congenital chest wall deformity, tracheal tumors and more.
Dr. Alex is in practice with University Thoracic Surgeons, which specializes in minimally invasive approaches to thoracic oncology. Her office is located at 1890 Silver Cross Blvd., Pavilion A, Suite 375. To schedule an appointment, call 312-942-6642.
To schedule a CT Lung Screening, call Silver Cross Central Scheduling at 815-300-7076.