Karen Gersch, MD, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Palmetto Cardiovascular & Thoracic Associates - Trident Health

North Charleston, SC (April 19, 2021) – According to the American Lung Association South Carolina’s rate of new lung cancer cases is significantly higher than the national average1. Cases have grown nearly 10% in the past five years. A new program launched by Trident Health is designed to identify lung nodules, which are one of the early signs of the possible presence of lung cancer. Cardiothoracic surgeon Karen Gersch, MD with Palmetto Cardiovascular and Thoracic Associates, says early results indicate the program is successful. For patients this means a higher quality of life and a higher survival rate.

“One of the unfortunate facts about lung cancer is that too many people learn they have the cancer when it’s already at an advanced stage, which means there is a low survival rate,” explained Dr. Gersch, who leads the lung cancer program for Trident Health and Colleton Medical Center.  “Our program quickly identifies key access points, like our Trident Health and Colleton Medical Center emergency departments and our inpatients who may have had a CT scan that indicates a previously unknown lung nodule. By finding pulmonary nodules earlier, as small as six millimeters (about the width of a pea) we can determine quickly whether or not they are cancer. And, if they are cancer we are able to schedule the appropriate treatment quickly.” Trident Health includes two acute care hospitals – Trident Medical Center and Summerville Medical Center – and three freestanding ERs – Brighton Park Emergency, Centre Pointe Emergency and Moncks Corner Medical Center.

The program was launched in 2019. Today, more than 700 patients have been identified with nodules meeting the six millimeter criteria. Since January 1, 2021 Trident Health’s lung nodule early detection program has identified 272 patients with a lung nodule greater than six millimeters. Of the 272, 22 patients were diagnosed with lung cancer. Fifteen of them were able to have minimally-invasive robotic surgery.

One surgical option is minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery, which is one of Dr. Gersch’s specialties. “Through our early detection program we are finding lung cancer in its early stages and through minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery I have many patients who are going home 24 and 48 hours after surgery. We’re doing this without the traditional opening of the chest and long recovery time. What we are doing is truly saving lives. “It’s very satisfying as a surgeon to give patients new hope.”

Another resource used at Trident Health is the Low Dose CT lung scan, which is performed on patients who have indicated they are long time smokers. In the past eight years, more than 9,000 patients have undergone the Low Dose CT lung scan at Trident Medical Center. For criteria to participate in the lung cancer screening go to Trident Medical Center Lung Cancer Care.

1. American Lung Association