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Lung Institute Advances Cancer Care

March 30, 2010
Lung cancer is the leading cancer death among men and women, killing more Americans each year than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Nearly 220,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year and 159,000 die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Somerset Medical Center’s Steeplechase Cancer Center is trying to improve those odds.

Its newly formed Lung Cancer Institute takes a team approach to care, bringing together pulmonologists, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, nurses and smoking cessation experts to improve outcomes for patients with lung cancer. The team works to establish guidelines for the treatment of lung cancer patients and reviews cases to ensure patients are getting the best care.

“Our goal is to increase the number of lung cancers diagnosed at an early stage and reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment, which has been shown to significantly increase survival rates,” says thoracic surgeon Jean-Phillipe Bocage, MD, chair of the Lung Cancer Institute.

“Patients benefit from this type of coordinated approach because it fosters communication among specialists from various disciplines and promotes the exchange of ideas and information about new techniques and treatment options,” says Stephen Einreinhofer, DO, FACP, FCCP, FAASM, chief of pulmonology at Somerset Medical Center and a member of the Lung Cancer Institute. 

Patient Navigator Facilitates Care 
A new lung cancer patient navigator at The Steeplechase Cancer Center helps coordinate testing and treatment following the guidelines set by the Lung Cancer Institute. 
In many cases, lung cancer is found by accident when a patient is undergoing a CT scan to test for another problem, such as pneumonia or abdominal pain. Because these accidental findings are most likely to identify cancer early, the patient navigator targets these cases to make sure patients get timely testing and treatment, which may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment or a combination of treatments.

“In my role, I work very closely with doctors, nurses and the entire care team to coordinate a patient’s care plan from the first finding of a suspicious nodule in the lung and preliminary testing through surgery and follow-up treatment,” says patient navigator Jill Steck, RN. 

“Jill is fantastic,” says Pat Heckerman, 66, of Readington Township, whose lung nodule was determined to be non-cancerous. “When I had questions about my care, Jill walked me through everything step by step. Talking to her helped calm me down and made me feel less anxious because I knew what to expect.” 

A Leader in Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery

For patients with tumors or other lung ailments, Somerset Medical Center offers video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). Using a small videoscope, surgeons are able to perform chest surgery through four small incisions, resulting in less pain and faster recoveries than thoracotomy (open chest surgery). Dr. Bocage and his partner, Robert Caccavale, MD, were among the first in the world to perform this technique and have successfully performed more than 5,000 surgeries. 

Robert Jaeger, 76, of Bridgewater, underwent the procedure in December to remove a tumor from his right lung. The tumor was discovered on an X-ray in Somerset Medical Center’s Emergency Department last fall. 

Because Jaeger has emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he was not a candidate for traditional chest surgery but was surprised to find out VATS was an option. He was even more amazed at his fast recovery.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was able to go home the next day,” he says. “I thought I would be in the hospital for at least a week.”

Jaeger is now undergoing chemotherapy at The Steeplechase Cancer Center to shrink a tumor in his left lung. The management of his care has been discussed by the lung cancer multidisciplinary team, which includes his oncologist Steven Young, MD, pulmonologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists.

“The care that I have received at Somerset Medical Center has been simply outstanding,” he says. “The doctors and the nurses are the utmost professionals and very caring – I would recommend them to anyone.”

Access to National Clinical Research Studies

Through Somerset Medical Center’s affiliation with The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, The Steeplechase Cancer Center offers lung cancer patients the opportunity to participate in national clinical research studies. Clinical trials currently under way include studies to determine the benefits of different combinations of chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of early stage and advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

Helping Smokers Reduce Their Risk

Smoking is one of the major risk factors for lung cancer. Somerset Medical Center’s Tobacco Quitcenter helps smokers successfully kick the habit and reduce their chances of developing the disease.

The Quitcenter, one of seven state-funded smoking cessation programs in New Jersey, offers one-on-one and group counseling, prescription cessation medications and discounted nicotine replacement therapy. In 2009, 380 smokers turned to the Quitcenter for help.

Heckerman, who has smoked for 50 years, was referred by her surgeon to the Quitcenter and is working with Chris Kotsen, PsyD, tobacco cessation specialist and program manager, to identify emotional triggers for smoking and develop healthy alternatives.

“I realized that I can’t do this on my own,” Heckerman says. “I want to quit and I have to quit for my health.”

To learn more about the Tobacco Quitcenter, which will soon be relocating to The Steeplechase Cancer Center, call 908-685-2442.

For more information about the Lung Cancer Institute at Somerset Medical Center’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, visit or call the lung cancer patient navigator at 908-595-2678.