John Fowler, MD, pulmonologist-intensivist
The Vancouver Clinic and medical director, Critical Care, Southwest Washington Medical Center
It’s no secret that lung disease is generally considered to be a preventable ailment, but what you may not realize is that it’s becoming more treatable with recent advances in medications and technology.
Because early diagnosis is critical for achieving the best results—preservation of lung function and quality of life—it is important for people to overcome their fear of the unknown and resolve to see a pulmonologist sooner than later.
Pulmonologists specialize in the care of people with problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. And with an increasing arsenal of highly effective medications and advanced diagnostic tools, there is hope for the 22 million Americans living with lung disease.
Most diagnostic tests for determining lung function or detecting disease are non-invasive or only minimally-invasive:
- Bronchoscopy: Uses a scope to view the bronchial tubes (large airways) in your lungs. It can also be used to take samples of tissue or secretions.
- Chest X-ray: A simple chest X-ray is often used as the primary diagnostic tool to spot a tumor in the lungs. Additional imaging is usually required for further diagnostic testing and treatment.
- PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan: Uses an injection of a radioactive substance to detect the subtle differences between tissue irritation and malignant tumors.
- CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: Uses a series of X-rays and 3-D imaging to create a comprehensive picture of your lungs. It is an excellent tool for determining the exact location of a tumor and other abnormalities.
- Needle Biopsy: After a tumor has been detected, a biopsy or tissue sample may be obtained. This procedure involves the use of a CT scan to pinpoint the tumor’s location.
These diagnostic tools, in combination with today’s medication and treatment options, give patients more hope than ever before. A comprehensive care plan for managing lung disease or treating lung cancer is essential for successful outcomes.
If you smoke, quit now. And if you’re experiencing symptoms (persistent coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain), put your fear aside and see a pulmonologist. When it comes to lung disease, there is no time waste—so why wait?
Published June 2008.