Wednesday, May 27, 2015 12:00 AM

Speedier discovery spurs better outcomes with lung cancer

At one time Gordon Carlson’s lung cancer diagnosis would’ve given him an iffy future. But as soon as something abnormal was detected on an x-ray of his lungs he was referred to the Lung Nodule Program at Community Regional. He’s now in remission and back to work as a corporate trainer and enjoying his family and getting outdoors again.

Community’s Lung Nodule Clinic has been able to shorten the time between a patient’s initial referral and consultation with lung experts from nearly three months to seven days. Now 61.5% of patients are diagnosed at early stages of their lung cancers, compared with 42% just after the program started.

Lung cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in California. About 12,600 Californians die of lung cancer each year, and about 2,100 new cases are diagnosed annually. The survival rate for those with a late-stage lung-cancer diagnosis is less than 2% over five years. But when detected early, the prognosis is much better.

elderly man walking in a park“Historically patients in the San Joaquin Valley are diagnosed with lung cancer at a later stage and have worse outcomes,” said Dr. Michael W. Peterson, a pulmonologist practicing at Community Regional Medical Center and vice-chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Fresno medical education program. “We started the weekly multidisciplinary lung nodule clinic in 2008 to expedite the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer in this population.”

“Before the lung nodule program getting treatment was like a traffic jam,” said Carlson, whose lung cancer was treated with 18 chemo treatments and 35 radiation treatments, including Cyberknife. “I’m a NASCAR fan so being in the program is like being on a super speedway. The treatment is so organized and coordinated.”

Erin Kennedy and Mary Lisa Russell reported this story. Reach them at