Healthwatch 16: Lung Cancer in Nonsmokers

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- Smoking is a common risk factor for lung cancer, but doctors say women with no history of smoking are increasingly developing lung cancer.

February in northeastern and central Pennsylvania is cold and plenty of colds are going around then, so Dr. Denise Prislupski from Old Forge didn't think a thing of it when she found herself with cold symptoms.

"I developed a cough," Dr. Prislupski recalled. "At that time, it was February, it was cold and flu season, and everybody was coughing."

But by the end of March, she'd lost her voice. An ear nose and throat specialist found that one of her vocal cords was paralyzed, and then she discovered why. She had multiple masses growing in her lungs and they'd already spread to other parts of her body -- Stage 4 lung cancer.

The 60-year-old, who is herself a doctor of audiology with a thriving private practice, was blindsided.

"I'm the girl who does everything right," said Dr. Prislupski.  "I go every year to get a mammogram, every five for a colonoscopy, get to my doctor for blood work and physicals. I do everything I'm supposed to do."

And that includes not smoking.

"Unfortunately, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women in the world," said Dr. Chris Adonizio, the thoracic medical oncologist who is treating Denise.

He explains she is not receiving chemotherapy or radiation, at least not yet. Her tumor tested positive for a particular mutation, an on/off switch for different cells in the lungs.

"It can turn the lung cells on and create a cancer, so Denise's treatment is based on blocking the signal from that mutation, turning it off, like turning a light switch off," said Dr. Adonizio.

And it's working. Only one spot remains on her lung scans compared to six months ago and Dr. Adonizio says it is dissipating. He'd like people to know that the only thing needed to get lung cancer is lungs, referring to a stigma he says is sometimes attached to a lung cancer diagnosis.

"When someone has a lung cancer diagnosis, there's no room for blaming or shaming," Dr. Adonizio said.

Dr. Matthew Faktor concurs. He's director of thoracic surgery at Geisinger Medical Center. He'd like to see more research dollars funneled to study lung cancer.

"Because of the stigma, lung cancer is lagging far behind," said Dr. Faktor.

Denise says she made the decision early on to be positive and fight this as best she can.

"It can happen to anybody. It can happen to anybody."

1 Comment

  • L

    You know we do have Environmental Issues and stuff floating around in the air. Our Air Quality is not great..Vehicle Emissions, Fracking, Industrial Zones, well..just about anything that is set out to fly away.
    People are delusional if they think just cause they don’t smoke that they are exempt from getting lung cancer.

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