A lung cancer diagnosis can be scary, but at Williamson Medical Center (WMC), no patient has to walk through the process alone.
When a lung screening reveals a concerning lung nodule, Laura Taylor, MSN, RN, comes alongside patients and helps them navigate their next steps. Laura’s job is a mix “between a nurse and a social worker.” She tells, “I guide and educate patients who may need a pulmonary consult or a biopsy and collaborate with their physician to serve as a conduit to facilitate their recommended care plan. When additional care is needed, I expedite additional imaging and consults, minimize barriers to care, and support patients’ physical, mental, emotional and practical needs.”
Modern technology allows doctors to look at a patient’s imaging scans, identify abnormalities such as new lung nodules and assess existing lung nodules for growth. Sometimes the lung nodule can be other pulmonary conditions,
such as pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, COPD or asthma, that need to be addressed by a physician to improve one’s quality of life. However, there are times when a scan is ordered for a totally different purpose, but the radiologist incidentally identifies a suspicious lung finding.
Such was the case for middle Tennessee resident Connie Widener, who sought emergent care in the WMC Emergency Department for a possible stroke. While being scanned for the stroke, the radiologist identified a suspicious lung nodule and with follow-up care and tests with pulmonologist Devin Sherman, M.D., Connie was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer.
Connie says having a guide to help navigate scans, tests and treatments is vital — especially when the diagnosis comes as a surprise. “The diagnosis is so scary, and you don’t know what to do or what to expect,” Connie shared. “Laura sat me down and walked me through all of it so I would know ahead of time what to expect. Any time I’ve had a question, I can call and talk to her.”
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in the United States. “According to the American Cancer Society, the chances that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is one in fifteen. The chances that a woman will develop lung cancer in her lifetime is one in seventeen,” Laura said.
“Approximately eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking; therefore, the risk for smokers is much higher while non-smokers have a lower risk. Smoking is one risk factor within our power to change.” Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke, harmful chemicals, air pollution, smoking marijuana and a family history of lung cancer.
The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends annual screening with a low-dose CT scan for people at the highest risk of developing lung cancer. While Medicare and many private insurance companies now cover lung screening as a preventative service, certain criteria must be met. “The criteria have recently changed,” Laura said. “It now includes current smokers or smokers who have quit within the last fifteen years who are between the ages of fifty to seventy-seven for Medicare and between the ages of fifty to eighty for private insurance with a twenty-pack-year smoking history and are symptom-free.”
Since lung cancer may not cause symptoms until it has spread, early detection and routine screenings are vital, and the five physicians who comprise the WMC Pulmonary Group serve as strong lung screening advocates. Tufik Assad, M.D., is the Medical Director of the Lung Nodule Program. He and Dr. Sherman, provide interventional procedures using specialized equipment when lung nodules need to be biopsied.
While Connie is still undergoing treatment, she said having a calming presence in the middle of the uncertainty has made all the difference.
To schedule your lung screening or learn more, please call 615.790.4159.