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"What's Up, Dr. Dovec?" - Meet Jennifer Sullivan, MD, of Thoracic Surgery

January 20, 2021
Having to find a new healthcare provider can be a daunting task. It’s difficult to know whether the provider will be a good fit for you from just a biography and a photo online. In the series, “What’s Up, Dr. Dovec?” GBMC bariatric surgeon, Elizabeth Dovec, MD, FACS, FASMB, interviews providers across the GBMC HealthCare System so you can get to know them on a personal level and learn more about their specialties. In this episode, Dr. Dovec interviews Jennifer Sullivan, MD, a thoracic surgeon at GBMC. They talked about lung cancer screening and treatment.

“Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in both men and women, but because there are usually no symptoms during the early stages of the disease, most patients are diagnosed when receiving care for another problem,” said Dr. Sullivan. “I hear from patients so often, ‘I had no idea I had lung cancer. I was in an accident and broke my rib and they found the lung care by accident on the CT scan.’”

While there are usually no symptoms in lung cancer’s earliest stages, if the tumor is located in certain parts of the lung, it can cause coughing up blood and recurrent pneumonia. If you experience these symptoms, you should see your primary care provider who can start the process of finding the cause of your symptoms.

Unlike breast and colon cancer, there is no widespread lung cancer screening. Dr. Sullivan explained that’s because screening everyone not only exposes them to the radiation of the CT scan, it also often finds nodules that are not cancer. Those findings can lead to invasive testing to confirm that they’re not cancerous.

In the last five years, however, screening for lung cancer for certain groups of people has gained momentum. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued guidelines about who should be screened — people between the ages of 55 and 80, with a 30-pack year smoking history (smoking a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or three packs a day for ten years), who are still smoking or who quit less than 15 years ago. Those guidelines are expected to be updated next year to a 20-pack year threshold.

“Updating these guidelines will mean two million more people will be eligible for screening, which will allow us to catch about 3,000 more lung cancers in their early stages,” explained Dr. Sullivan. She also discussed how lung cancer is staged and advances in lung cancer surgery, including minimally invasive video-guided and robotic surgery.

Asked why she chooses to practice at GBMC, Dr. Sullivan said, “During training, I experienced working at bigger hospitals. At GBMC, we provide the same excellent care, but we’re able to provide individualized attention to each patient.”
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