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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Hackensack University Medical Center Thoracic Team Provides Nationally Recognized High-Quality Care

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U.S. News & World Report Ranks program #1 in the state and #24 in the nation for Pulmonary and Lung Surgery, as well as High-Performing in Lung Surgery for 2023-2024

HACKENSACK, N.J., Nov. 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — During his eight-year tenure at Hackensack University Medical Center, Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Nabil Rizk, M.D., has assembled a thoracic surgery team that includes Geoffrey Pelz, M.D., Daniel Mansour, M.D., and Michael Spallone, M.D. — together, the group has implemented numerous innovations, process enhancements and efficiencies that have resulted in better, more-streamlined patient care.


Thoracic Surgeons, Geoffrey Pelz, M.D.; Daniel Mansour, M.D.; Michael Spallone, M.D.; Nabil Rizk, M.D.


In 2023, the team was recognized for its efforts, ranking #1 in the state of New Jersey and 24th in the nation for Pulmonary & Lung Surgery and earning a High-Performing Hospital designation for Lung Surgery from U.S. News & World Report. During Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, the team is reflecting on their accomplishments and looking toward the future.

“According to the U.S. News & World Report best hospital rankings, we are the #1 Thoracic Surgery team in New Jersey, working at Hackensack University Medical Center, New Jersey’s #1 Hospital, in collaboration with the oncology specialists at the John Theurer Cancer Center, the state’s “premiere cancer center” – there’s no question who our communities should choose for their care,” says Dr. Rizk who explains the patients’ quality of life is at the core of all the team does.

“We are continually working on process improvements that optimize outcomes, limit unnecessary resource utilization, streamline care and minimize the amount of lung tissue removed during our procedures,” Dr. Rizk explains.

“As a result, 80-90 percent of our patients go home the same day or the day after surgery, and our length-of-stay and other outcome measures are significantly better than other leading centers across the nation.”

“The thoracic surgeons at Hackensack University Medical Center are truly in the elite of thoracic surgeons in the United States. As Surgeon-in-Chief and Chair of Surgery at Hackensack, I am extraordinarily proud to have this team treat patients here,” says Howard Ross, MD, FACS, FASCRS. “The outcomes of this group with regard to length of stay and avoidance of complications are best in class. The positive patient experience this team delivers is inspirational!”

The team is continuously focused on the quality measures that promote a safer, faster recovery and help patients do better overall.

“Our retrospective and prospective research helps us validate and advance techniques, so we can deliver uniform outcomes from surgeon to surgeon,” said Dr. Rizk. “No matter which surgeon you see, you will get the same outcomes.”

Dr. Rizk said two attending thoracic surgeons are in the operating room for each thoracic procedure to help minimize any chance for complications and achieve the best surgical outcomes. The entire thoracic surgery team, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, rounds together to make consensus based and timely patient-care decisions to provide the best patient outcomes with the shortest lengths of stay.

Each surgeon works as part of the team and offers a full range of thoracic surgery procedures, but also engages in specialized research and performs complex procedures based on their individual areas of interest. Each member of the team trained at different institutions, so as a result, they bring unique perspectives and experiences together for the benefit of their patients.

“We all perform every type of procedure, but I have a special research and clinical interest in esophageal cancer. Drs. Pelz, Mansour and Spallone perform most of the procedures to treat benign esophageal conditions,” said Dr. Rizk. “Dr. Pelz has also been instrumental in bringing in Ion robot-assisted biopsy and navigation technology.”

Ion enables thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists to navigate the lung through a network of narrow and delicate airways to access hard-to-reach nodules. The Ion system combines computed tomography (CT) data and robotic-assisted surgical technology to facilitate access to hard-to-reach nodules. The entire procedure is performed through a breathing tube while the patient is asleep, without the need for any external surgical incisions.

Hackensack University Medical Center was the first hospital in the state of New Jersey to obtain the Ion robotic platform and Dr. Pelz was the first physician to perform a case using it. “It’s like having GPS navigation for your car,” says Dr. Pelz. “I can mark the target mass on the computer software and it draws a roadmap through the airways of the lung. Once the patient is in the OR, I can drive a tiny camera to essentially any part of the lung and perform biopsies, put in markers for radiation treatment, or ink the target and combine it with the DaVinci robotic surgery platform to perform minimally invasive lung surgery, all under the same round of anesthesia.” 

Early detection and treatment is the key to improving outcomes for lung cancer. Using the Ion technology enables the surgeons to perform lung sparing surgery on small and nonsolid early stage lung cancers resulting in much higher chances for cures while removing less lung tissue. 

The thoracic surgery team continues to look to incorporate newer technologies. “We have recently added a 3D OEC fluoroscopy machine to our Ion cases that essentially acts like a mini CT scanner that has greatly increased our accuracy with biopsies and allowed us to go after increasingly smaller and more difficult to reach nodules with excellent results,” adds Dr. Mansour.

Although lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S. in both men and women, and lung cancer claims more lives than other types of cancers, Dr. Rizk and the team are hopeful about the future of the treatment of lung cancer for many reasons.

“There had been very slow improvement in the rate of long-term survival for lung cancer for decades and overall survival had still been poor. More recently, however, with new minimally invasive and more advanced surgical techniques, advances in radiation oncology, and new and more targeted medications in the field of medical oncology has led to a 21% increase in the five-year survival rate for lung cancer in only 4 years from 2014 to 2018” says Dr. Rizk.

In addition, lung cancer screening using CT scans of the chest has been a significant factor in helping to diagnose lung cancers while they are still early and have the best chance for cure. “Lung cancer screening can reduce your risk of dying by 20%,” says Dr. Spallone. “The problem is that only a very small fraction of eligible people get screened. Lung cancer screening was recommended in 2013, approved by Medicare in 2015, and continues to have the inclusion criteria revised and expanded over time. Most lung cancers have no symptoms until they are at an advanced stage and have a much less chance for cure. If it can be caught at the earliest stage the five year survival rate can be as high as 90%.” 

“More active and former smokers need to ask their doctors about lung cancer screening,” says Dr. Mansour. Patients can also call Hackensack University Medical Center’s lung cancer screening phone number, and if they qualify, work directly with our nurse practitioners, even if they don’t have a doctor. “This is a unique service for patients and can help to limit any barriers to getting screened and ultimately save more lives,” adds Dr. Mansour.

“Our team focus is always to provide the best possible care with the best outcomes for each patient that we treat,” says Dr. Rizk. “We have the perfect team, technology, and expertise to accomplish that goal. The #1 Lung Surgery Program in the state at the #1 Hospital in the state says it all.”

ABOUT HACKENSACK UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER

Hackensack University Medical Center, a 803-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital, was Bergen County’s first hospital founded in 1888. It was also the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet®-recognized hospital for nursing excellence, receiving its sixth consecutive designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The academic flagship of the Hackensack Meridian Health network, Hackensack University Medical Center is Nationally-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report 2022-2023 in adult six specialties, more than any other hospital in New Jersey. The hospital is home to the state’s only nationally-ranked Urology, Pulmonology and Lung Surgery, Geriatrics and Neurology & Neurosurgery programs, as well as the best Cardiology & Heart Surgery program. It also offers patients nationally-ranked Orthopedic care and one of the state’s premier Cancer Centers (John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center). Hackensack University Medical Center also ranked as High-Performing in conditions such as Acute Kidney Failure, Heart Attack (AMI), Heart Failure, Pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Diabetes and Stroke. As well as High Performing in procedures like Aortic Valve Surgery, Heart Bypass Surgery (CABG), Colon Cancer Surgery, Lung Cancer Surgery, Prostate Cancer Surgery, Hip Replacement and Knee Replacement. Named to Newsweek‘s World’s Best Hospitals 2023 list, Hackensack University Medical Center is also the recipient of the 2023 Patient Safety Excellence Award™ by Healthgrades as well as an “A” Hospital Safety Grade from The Leapfrog Group. This award-winning care is provided on a campus that is home to facilities such as the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital and the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, ranked #1 in the state and top 20 in the Mid-Atlantic Region in the U.S. News & World Report‘s 2022-23 Best Children’s Hospital Report. Additionally, the children’s nephrology program ranks in the top 50 in the United States. Hackensack University Medical Center is also home to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center and is listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. Our comprehensive clinical research portfolio includes studies focused on precision medicine, translational medicine, immunotherapy, cell therapy, and vaccine development. The largest healthcare expansion project ever approved by the state, the Helena Theurer Pavilion, opened to patients in January of 2023. The 530,000-sq.-ft., nine-story building was a $714.2 million endeavor that now houses 24 state-of-the-art operating rooms with intraoperative MRI capability, 50 ICU beds, and 175 medical/surgical beds including a 50 room Musculoskeletal Institute. 

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