Oct 2, 2009 9:01 AM by Eun Yang
Lung cancer has long been known as a smoker's disease, but now doctors are finding more and more cases in people who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives.
Bryan White, 59, runs for long distances. He sometimes starts at sunrise and finishes when the sun sets.
"I've been an exerciser, in an exercise program for at least 15 years, the last 15 years, intense exercise," said lung cancer patient Bryan White.
But his running came to a halt last spring.
"I could see it in her face it didn't look good," said White.
After recovering from pneumonia, a chest x-ray found a slow-growing tumor in his right lung. A CT scan pinpointed the size and location.
"It was very bad. She said I had a growth of 2.5 centimeters and she was pretty sure it was cancer in my lower right lung," said White.
"He was beside himself. He just didn't understand how this could happen to him. He's done everything right," said Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Sandeep Khandar.
White believed the diagnosis was a death sentence.
But Dr. Khandar told him there was hope with a new procedure to remove lung tumors that would not only get rid of the cancer, but would allow him to get back to his active lifestyle in just days.
"With the minimally invasive operation, we're able to get people out of the hospital as early as the next day. Get them back to work in a couple of days, back to functioning in their general capacity within a week or so," explained Dr. Khandar.
Khandar is one of just 40 surgeons in the country who is removing lung tumors through two tiny incisions.
Doctors insert a small camera through one of the holes and in the other hole; they put in special instruments that go between the ribs to remove the tumors.
"The biggest advantage is not spreading the ribs. If you don't spread the ribs, then patients have less pain," said Dr. Khandar.
In the traditional open surgeries, surgeons make large incisions in the chest and actually spread the ribs to access the lungs.
That causes damage to the muscles and a lot of pain.
It can take weeks for patients to recover.
"A traditional open operation, typically people are out of work for several weeks, on narcotic pain medication for several weeks, up to a month and still having a substantial amount of pain at 4, 7, 8, sometimes even 12 weeks," explained Dr. Khandar.
"After the operation, he said, I'll have you walking from the recovery room into your room and I said, that's pretty much unbelievable," said White.
But White says the doctor was true to his word.
He was not only back home the next day, but his running sneakers were back on his feet in less than a week.
"Everything he said, came true. And it really was amazing. How he got my lung out of that little hole, I have no idea, but he did," said White.
Dr. Sandeep Khandar says most lung tumors can now be removed through this procedure.
But some larger tumors or those that are located in the center of the lung may still need to be taken out through the traditional open surgery.