Rodolfo Morice, M.D., shares the stories of patients and family members when he talks about the role of pulmonary medicine at MD Anderson.
First, he remembers a man with renal cancer who developed tumors in his airway. No treatment worked, but Morice was able to remove the tumors and allow the man to breathe.
Three years later, when the cancer metastasized and nothing more could be done, the man thanked Morice, "You've given me three good years. In that time, my son got married and my grandson was born."
And there's the young woman who wrote him a thank-you letter, saying, "You don't know me, but years ago, when I was 5 years old, you treated my mother. I'm grateful I had her for another five years." Lungs. We take them for granted. Yet, respiratory rate is one of the four vital signs, along with blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Doctors want to know: Are we breathing easy? Or are we laboring for every breath?
"For many years, however, pulmonary specialists in the community didn't believe there was much for the treatment of lung cancer outside surgery," says Morice, professor in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine.
"In fact, 25 years ago, the American Thoracic Society reported that only 11% of lung cancer patients were even referred to an oncologist because if the disease was too advanced for surgery, there was little hope.
"On the other side, the oncologists were so challenged with treating the cancer that there was not much focus on the side effects of the disease and its treatments."
Research discoveries over the last quarter century have changed patients' options.
"Our goal is to improve patients' quality of life during treatment and to keep them cancer-free and healthy," he says.