For the first time at Northwestern Medicine, surgeons have successfully removed an entire lung using high-precision robot-assisted surgery on a patient with stage 3 lung cancer.

Kathie Schultz of Union, Ill., had her left lung removed at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital on Oct. 17, after an advanced tumor invaded critical structures including the esophagus and the aorta (the main artery that carries blood away from the heart). Before the procedure, doctors administered both chemotherapy and immunotherapy to shrink the tumor, then surgeons removed the entire lung to ensure the 63-year-old would go home cancer-free.

“What’s novel about Kathie’s case, is that using a treatment customized for her based on the genetic makeup of her tumor, we could first shrink the tumor to the point that it could all be removed, and we could cure her,” said Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Prior to giving that therapy, the tumor was not completely removable. Although surgical removal of the lung is a highly complex procedure — especially in patients that have received chemotherapy and immunotherapy — we are happy that we could do this for Kathie using the most advanced minimally invasive robotic approach. At Canning Thoracic Institute, we always strive to bring the most innovative care closer to patients’ homes.”

Because the surgery was robot-assisted, Schultz’s largest incision was less than an inch and a half and did not include any bone or muscle cutting. She spent only three days in the hospital after the surgery — about half the typical duration — with minimal discomfort.

“It was amazing,” said Schultz. “I was shocked. The scar is like non-existent after eight weeks. I mean, this team saved my life, and because of them, I get to spend the holidays with my family cancer-free.”

Before her surgery, Schultz was a smoker who had never been screened for lung cancer. On May 15, she went to the emergency room thinking she had a bad upper respiratory infection, but doctors revealed she had lung cancer. Two months after surgery, Schultz has no signs of cancer left in her body and is back to enjoying her retirement. She says she’s sharing her story to emphasize the importance of lung cancer screening.

“Don’t wait until you feel terrible to go in,” said Schultz. “I mean, everybody feels great until they don’t. And when that happens, it’s such a shock. If I could encourage even one person to get screened, that’s all I could ever ask for. I was just so lucky.”

Recently, The American Cancer Society updated its lung cancer screening guidelines, broadening the scope of recommended testing to encompass an additional five million adults in the United States. The new guidelines, last updated in 2013, extends the age range for recommended yearly screening to adults aged 50 to 80 who are current or former smokers with a 20-year or greater pack-year history. The updated guidelines also eliminated the “years since quitting” requirement, now encompassing people who quit smoking 15 or more years ago.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., with more people dying of lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. As a National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University offers the newest, most effective treatments through clinical trials, sharing vital education and services in the larger community, and providing state-of-the art cancer services and ongoing support to patients and families across Northwestern Medicine.

Source: Northwestern Medicine