Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu is one of the best specialists in the world in successfully treating lung cancer and among the first specialists worldwide to have used the best performing technique during surgeries for this illness. In the Acibadem hospitals from Istanbul the medical teams remove lung tumors using single-incision thoracoscopic surgery. Professor Dr. Semih Halezeroglu’s team is credited with over 100 cases approached using this modern technique which provides patients with a good quality life after the surgery. The Acibadem Centers have the highest number of patients in the world treated using this technique and the success of this intervention is due to the benefic combination of the doctors’ skills and the state-of-the-art apparatus. We talked to Prof. Dr. Semih Halezeroglu about the impact of smoking on the lungs health, but also about the treatment methods he currently uses.
What’s your opinion on smoking? What have you noticed on your patients regarding this harmful habit?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: This is something largely known: smoking is a bad habit. If you are a smoker, you are liable to many diseases: lung cancer, heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Currently, all smokers are warned on the dangers also with the labels on cigarette packages. Therefore, if, after years of smoking, you get sick, you have no right to say: why me? You can’t say that because you’ve been warned on the dangers of smoking. I am asked all the time what are the signs predicting lung cancer. The first sign is the cigarette between your fingers. Smoking is bad and leads to lung cancer. So, if you want to be healthy, you need to give up smoking. Ideally, a life without ever smoking is desirable, therefore we need to prevent cigarettes consumption among young people. 90% of patients with lung cancer either smoked, or are still smoking. Only 10% of patients have never consumed tobacco. Among the latter, there are some exposed to cigarette smoke, that is passive smoking.
How does smoking affect the lungs?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: If you are a smoker, you inhale all the smoke into your lungs and they basically turn black. And after a long period of smoking, say 20 years, breathing becomes 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 does it take for the lungs to clean after giving up smoking?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: It depends on the length of time spent smoking by the person giving up. For instance, for a person who smoked one package of cigarettes for 25 years, it takes a long time until the lungs are clean. But if, for instance, somebody smoked two-three cigarettes a day for 10 years, it takes a year, maybe two, until the lungs are clean. But the risks of lung cancer are not entirely diminished, if a lot of tobacco was consumed during a long period. Therefore, we advise everybody not to start smoking because the lung cancer risks will not be down to zero if a person quits smoking after having been a heavy smoker. The risk decreases gradually, in 15 years, but it will never be completely reduced.
The risk remains because of the genetic mutations that smoking produces? There are 150 mutations per year in an organism taking in one package a day.
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: Any type of cancer in the body occurs because of the genetic mutations caused by chemicals ingested with food, smoking, pollution. Long-term smoking leads to malignant modifications in the body and so does the simple fact that we aggress our lungs every day with the same mechanic gesture of inhaling the 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 is, as I said, smoking. Thus, a large cigarettes consumption must make you think that you could, at some point, get lung cancer. There are no specific symptoms for lung cancer, but patients can experience blood expectorations, inexplicable weight loss, chest pains, chronic cough. Nevertheless, these symptoms are experienced by people suffering from tuberculosis, pneumonia or other chronic diseases.
Which screening investigations do you recommend for smokers?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: The World Health Organization recommends all smokers with ages between 55 and 74 who smoke 25 packs of cigarettes per year to have an annual contrast tomography.
What treatments do you recommend at this moment for lung cancers?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: It depends on the stage of the disease. If a lung cancer is detected in stages 1 and 2, the chances to be cured are higher. They decrease if the disease is detected while in stages 3 and 4. In stages 1 and 2, the tumors are small and there are no malignant disseminations in the body; also, surgery offers maximum survival chances to patients by removing the affected lung tissue. The thoracic surgery has evolved over time: in the past, the intervention involved opening the thorax and there were risks of postsurgical complications. Also, the quality of life was much damaged after the intervention. Currently, surgeries are minimum invasive because we don’t open the thorax anymore. Using some small incisions, we introduce into the lungs devices for visualizing the area, and we use those incisions to take out the sick tissue. Thoracoscopic interventions have evolved a lot, as well: currently, one of the best performing techniques in thoracoscopy involves the single-incision intervention. It can only be done by experimented doctors using high-end medical techniques. Basically, the instruments reach the lung through an incision of 3-5 cm used to remove the lung tissue affected by cancer. The advantage of this intervention is a much better quality of life for patients while maintaining optimum lung function. Our objective is not only to save the patient’s life, but also to provide a good life after surgery. At Acibadem, we have had 100 cases of cancer approached using single-incision thoracoscopic surgery. We are the only center in the world with the highest number of cases treated using this technique. With the help of this technique, more than 50% of the patients had a survival rate of over 5 years, if the disease was detected in stages 1 and 2. But we must consider that the other patients who do not survive are ageing patients, at over 65-67 years old and experiencing other diseases beside lung cancer, most of them also caused by smoking. Among those, cardiovascular diseases, for instance. Anyway, the survival rate of 50% is the best in the world.
Are you, currently, in the situation of detecting malignant lung tumors in young patients?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: Yes, we have patients with ages between 20-30, but their number is very small, as this disease rarely occurs in young age.
What do you recommend to all healthy people regarding diet and lifestyle to prevent serious illnesses?
Prof Dr. Semih Halezeroglu: First piece of advice is to avoid smoking or to give it up. Second, I recommend a no-sugar diet. Then, it is important to have a diet with no additives, flavor enhancers or other preservatives, because these may cause genetic mutations that increase the risk of cancer. And don’t forget the daily dose of movement in order to prevent serious conditions.