Friday, July 6, 2012

Stopping Lung Cancer In Its Tracks

In October 2011, when Erin Morrissey coughed up a scant amount of blood, she didn’t think much about it. Then it happened again.

“The second trace of blood sent me to the doctor, who ran a gamut of tests,” says Ms. Morrissey. “What they initially thought was pneumonia ended up being a large, malignant mass on my right lung.”

Ms. Morrissey, who lives in Frederick, Maryland, was originally sent to a local physician who gave her a grim outlook – a diagnosis of stage IIIA lung cancer. He claimed her tumor was inoperable in its current state and would need many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation before it could be removed. “The thing about cancer is, once you have it, you want it out immediately,” she says. “Waiting to be operated on was hugely upsetting for me.”

She decided to seek a second opinion with Neri Cohen, MD, PhD, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at GBMC, who immediately gave her hope. “Dr. Cohen was a breath of fresh air,” says Ms. Morrissey. “He gave me the encouragement that I needed and, for the first time, I felt like I had a fighting chance.”

After reviewing her tests, Dr. Cohen decided that there was a very good chance the tumor could be removed without her receiving systemic treatment first. He explained that, for patients who need trimodality (surgery, chemotherapy & radiation) therapy, the data showed the same survival rate no matter what order the therapy was given.  Ms. Morrissey was quickly scheduled for surgery. Though 40 percent of her lung needed to be removed, the tumor was fully resected.

“We performed minimally invasive video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) to remove Ms. Morrissey’s tumor,” says Dr. Cohen. “Using VATS was the most effective way to assess the extent of the disease and decide whether the tumor could be removed. With the help of the video camera, I get an excellent visualization of the surgical field and, in Erin’s case, was able to completely remove the tumor without complications. In general, this procedure is successful and boasts excellent results with a faster recovery time, fewer complications and less pain.”

Dr. Cohen notes that Ms. Morrissey’s cancer had already spread to some of the lymph nodes in her chest at the time of her surgery. Based on evidence from several clinical trials, he recommended a course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy following surgery to give her the best chance for a cure. After a two-day stay at GBMC to recover from the operation, Ms. Morrissey decided to undergo the treatments at a hospital closer to her home.  She credits her good results to Dr. Cohen’s expertise.

Today, Ms. Morrissey is stronger than ever. In fact, she didn’t even have to give up participating in the annual Hooly Plunge in her hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. She raised more than $10,000 for the Alleghany County Special Olympics by jumping into the icy waters of Lake Habeeb. “I’m certainly feeling like my old self again, thanks to the care I received at GBMC,” she says.

Learn More

Get additional information about the various treatments and procedures offered by GBMC’s Division of Thoracic Surgery by visiting

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