Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu is one of the best specialists in the world successfully treating lung cancer and among the first in the world to use the most performant technique in surgeries for this disease. In Acibadem hospitals from Istanbul, medical teams remove lung tumors using single incision thoracoscopic surgery. Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu’s team has an experience in over 100 cases approached with this modern technique ensuring patients a good life quality after the intervention. Acibadem centers have the highest number of patients treated using this technique in the world, and the success of the intervention is due to the beneficial combination between skillful specialists and latest generation devices. We talked to Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu about the impact of smoking on lungs health, but also about the treatment methods he currently uses.
What is your opinion on smoking? What do you notice regarding your patients and this toxic habit?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: It is a well-known fact all over the world: smoking is a bad habit. If you are a smoker, you are prone to suffer from many diseases: lung cancer, heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Currently, all smokers are warned on these dangers also through the cigarettes packs. Therefore, if after years of smoking, you become ill, you don’t have the right to say: why me? You can’t say this because you have been warned about the dangers of smoking. People ask me all the time which are the warning signs of lung cancer. The first sign is the cigarette burning between your fingers. Smoking is bad and it leads to lung cancer. So, if you want to be healthy, you must quit smoking. The ideal situation would be never to smoke, that’s why we need to prevent tobacco consumption among young people. 90% of lung cancer patients either smoked, or they are still smoking. Only 10% of patients have never consumed tobacco. Among these, however, there were people exposed to cigarette smoke, that is second-hand smoking.
How does smoking affect the lungs?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: If you are a smoker, you inhale all the smoke into the lungs and they just turn black. And after a longer period of smoking, let’s say 20 years, breathing becomes basically more difficult. Moreover, the noxious substances accumulating in the lungs lead to the occurrence of lung cancer, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, of heart diseases.
How many years after quitting smoking do the lungs need to become clean?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: It depends a lot on how much did the person quitting smoke. For instance, for a person smoking a package a day for 25 years, it takes a long time until the lungs are clean. But if, for instance, somebody smoked two-three cigarettes per day for 10 years, it takes a year, maybe two until the lungs will be clean. But the risks of lung cancer are not entirely reduced, if a person consumed a lot of tobacco for a very long time. This is why we recommend everybody not to start smoking because the lung cancer risks don’t drop to zero if a person quits smoking after having smoked a lot. The risk decreases progressively, in 15 years, but it will never be completely gone.
The risk remains because of the genetic mutations smoking produces? There are 150 mutations per year in an organism smoking a package a day.
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: Any type of cancer in the body occurs because of genetic mutations caused by chemicals ingested through food, smoking, pollution. Long term smoking can lead to malignant modifications in the body just because we aggress the lungs every day with the same mechanical gesture of inhaling noxious smoke.
Can lung cancer be detected in early stages?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: Yes, cancer can be detected in early stages. The first sign, as I said earlier, is smoking. So, an increased consumption of cigarettes should make one think about the likely risks of lung cancer at some point. There are no symptoms specific to lung cancer, but patients can experience blood sputum, unexplainable weight loss, chest pain, chronic cough. But these symptoms may also occur in cases of tuberculosis, pneumonia or other chronic diseases.
What kind of screening tests do you recommend for smokers?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: The World Health Organization recommends smokers with ages between 55 and 74, smoking 25 packages of cigarettes, to have an annual tomography with contrast media.
What treatments do you recommend now for lung cancers?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: It depends on the stage of the disease. If a lung cancer is identified in stages 1 and 2, the chances to be cures are higher. They decrease if the condition is identified in stages 3 or 4. In stages 1 and 2, the tumors are small and there are no malignant spreads in the body, and surgery gives maximum survival chances to patients by removing the affected pulmonary tissue. Thoracic surgery has evolved in time: in the past, the intervention involved opening the thorax and the risk of post-surgery complications was high. Also, the quality of life was greatly decreased after the intervention. Currently, surgery is minimum invasive because we don’t open the thorax anymore. With several small incisions, we introduce into the lungs devices to view the area, as we use those as well for getting out the sick tissue. Thoracoscopic surgery has also evolved a great deal: nowadays, one of the most performant techniques in thoracoscopic surgery involves the single incision intervention. It can only be done by experienced doctors using high-end medical techniques. Basically, the tools get into the lung through a 3-5 cm incision used for removing pulmonary tissue affected by cancer. The advantage of this intervention is a much improved quality of life for patients while maintaining an optimal pulmonary function. Our objective is not only saving the patient’s life, but also to ensure a good quality life after the intervention. Here, at Acibadem, we have had 100 cases of single incision thoracoscopic surgery for cancer. We are the only center in the world with the highest number of cases treated with this technique. With the help of this technique, over 50% of patients had a survival rate of over 5 years, if the disease was discovered in stages 1 or 2. But we need to think that the other patients, who are not among the survivors, are senior patients, over 65, 67 years old, and have other diseases beside lung cancer, also caused by smoking, most of them. Among these there are cardiovascular diseases, for instance. Anyway, the survival rate of 50% is the best in the world.
Are you currently in the position of detecting pulmonary malignant tumors in young people as well?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: Yes, we have patients with ages between 20-30 years old, but their number is very small, this conditions seldom occurs at a young age.
What do you recommend healthy people concerning diet and lifestyle in order to prevent serious conditions?
Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: My first piece of advice is to avoid smoking or to give up smoking, if they are smoking now. Secondly, I recommend a no sugar diet. Then, it is important to have a diet without preservatives, no taste enhancers and other additives because these can generate genetic mutations which increase the risk of cancer. And do not forget to exercise daily in order to prevent serious diseases.