Compared by his patients to a fighter pilot, Dr. Burfeind is laser-focused on fighting lung cancer. He is also passionate about preventative screening and clinical trials – two areas in which St. Luke’s excels.
With lung cancer responsible for more than 158,000 deaths annually in the United States, it is one of cancer’s biggest killers of both men and women - which is why early detection is so important.
“Screening for lung cancer saves lives,” states William R. Burfeind, Jr., MD, St. Luke’s chief of surgery and fellowship-trained cardiothoracic surgeon. “We see it every day. Someone who may have been a smoker in the past – and appears perfectly healthy – can be diagnosed early with the help of a low-dose CT scan.”
St. Luke’s Cancer Center offers these scans to patients who are referred by their primary care physician. Individuals between the ages of 55-74 years old who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years are eligible.
“Don’t be afraid to discuss your smoking history with your doctor,” recommends Dr. Burfeind. “Unfortunately most lung cancers are caught in Stages III and IV, when the cancer has already spread and is difficult to treat. When we identify lung cancer in Stages I or II, when it is most curable, we have a much better shot at a positive outcome.”
St. Luke’s screens approximately 80-100 people each month and typical finds cancer in 1 out of 100 cases.
And then there are the anomalies, like Greg Makarchuk of Bethlehem, who have never smoked a day in their lives. “Greg’s case was unique in that he was a non-smoker. Unfortunately, lung cancer is not limited to only people who smoke. It can develop for any number of reasons,” states Dr. Burfeind.
“Greg presented with difficulty breathing. He had gone to his family doctor to find out what was going on and his family doctor sent him for further testing,” Dr. Burfeind says. “I have many patients who are alive today because they were ‘lucky enough’ to have had pneumonia or some other health problem that raised a red flag. Listen to your body and know when to visit your doctor.”
Another patient of Dr. Burfeind’s, Pat Bush of Bethlehem Township, was diagnosed with lung cancer after pre-operative chest X-ray for a minor procedure on his foot. A native of Staten Island, Pat sought care at the renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, but decided to get a second opinion when a friend recommended Dr. Burfeind.
“MSK was great, but I knew that traveling would be hard on us,” says Pat. “After I met with Dr. Burfeind and got the exact same diagnosis, I told him ‘Here’s the thing doc – I met with MSK and they said the same thing.’ He said ‘Good – who did you see?’ I was stunned when he actually knew the guy I saw.”
“When I met with Dr. Burfeind, I knew I could trust him. He’s the best of the best – and that’s what you want when you are dealing with your life.”
Pat is currently enrolled in a clinical trial called the Alchemist trial – a study that follows lung cancer patients for two years post-treatment. “If I can make a difference for someone else, then I’m gonna do it,” states Pat.
“Clinical trials are extraordinarily important at St. Luke’s,” says Dr. Burfeind. “We build a portfolio of trials and are proud that 18 percent of our patients are enrolled in a clinical trial. To put that in perspective – a high performing organization typically only has about six percent of patients on clinical trials. So we are three times better than the national average.”
“If we are going to figure out how to beat lung cancer, we need to develop new treatments – and that’s what clinical trials are about.”
Learn more about clinical trials available at St. Luke’s.