November 19, 2020

Multidisciplinary team treats lung cancer patients at Northern

November is Lung Cancer Awareness month, an important initiative to raise awareness of the condition and break one common misconception – that lung cancer only affects smokers.

Dr Katharine See, Head of Respiratory, explains lung cancer doesn’t just affect smokers: one in five people with lung cancer have never smoked.

“Lung cancer affects both men and women, and statistics show twice as many women die of lung cancer each year than of breast cancer, and three times as many men die of lung cancer than of prostate cancer. During the pandemic, the number of new diagnosis of cancer has dropped about 27 per cent, so it’s really important that people don’t delay acting on their symptoms,” she said.

Dr See explains Northern Health has a fantastic multidisciplinary lung cancer service. In a single clinic, patients can be seen by the respiratory specialists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and thoracic surgeons, all in one location.

“And we are also incredibly lucky to have someone like Alison Hirth, Lung Mass Nurse Coordinator, who can coordinate patient care and is a key resource for patients during a very stressful time. Having a single point of contact gives patients some control over their diagnosis and treatment,” Dr See added.

“Once a patient is referred to Northern Health, establishing a diagnosis of lung cancer involves a number of investigations in an optimal time frame, across multiple health services. Patients with limited social support, new to the health system, with low health literacy and culturally and linguistically diverse patients particularly benefit from a central point of contact when all these tests need to be coordinated,” Alison said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some challenges in running a multidisciplinary clinic, such as being able to meet as a team to discuss patient results and care.

“In April, the lung cancer multidisciplinary meeting moved online. We are now running a completely virtual meeting and it has been a really positive addition to the service, as we can virtually look at patient’s pathology slides, review patient’s images with radiologists in real time, and so on. We have high attendance from all departments, which means patients are getting just as good quality care as they were before the pandemic,” Dr See added.

The team is still seeing some patients face to face, while others, who have follow up of nodules (or spots on the lungs), can have imaging and tests done, and then a telehealth consultation, which reduces the need to come to hospital.

The new EBUS machine, for which the Northern Heath Foundation has been fundraising during the year, will be available at Northern Health next year and will significantly improve care for lung cancer patients.

“This machine is particularly used for cancer patients, with a camera test that allows us to not only diagnose, but also stage the cancer all in one minimally invasive procedure. Staging is particularly important as determines the type of treatment most suited for each individual patient,” Dr See added.

Early diagnosis of lung cancer is challenging, as patients often don’t have symptoms at the early stage of their disease.

Katharine and Alison agree that the earlier the team can make the diagnosis and commence treatment, the better the outcome for the patient.

If you have symptoms such as an unexplained cough that doesn’t go away, or you are coughing blood, losing weight without trying, experience chest and or shoulder pain, night sweats or unexplained shortness of breath, please don’t delay seeking medical help.

Featured image (left to right): Dr Krishna Bhagwat, Thoracic surgeon; Dr Bassem Dawood, Consultant Respiratory Medicine; Dr Terry Kok, Consultant Interventional Radiologist; Alison Hirth, Lung Mass Nurse Coordinator; Dr Katherine See, Director of Respiratory Medicine;  Dr Simon Knight, Director of Thoracic Surgery and Dr Frances Barnett, Director of Medical Oncology.

The MDM team also includes specialists in Nuclear Medicine, Pathology, Radiation Oncology, Pleural Medicine specialist and the Cancer MDM team.

Virtual lung cancer multidisciplinary meeting