Second Opinion Leads to Surgical Options for Los Angeles Lung Cancer Patient

Elaine Taite (right) shares how a second opinion from Harmik Soukiasian, MD, (left) may have saved her life.

Elaine Taite came to Cedars-Sinai believing the course of treatment for her advanced stage lung cancer was set: She would endure chemotherapy and radiation, but she wasn’t optimistic about her health.

The thoracic surgeon who examined Taite’s scans in advance of a biopsy had a different view.

“He told me, ‘I don’t want to do a biopsy. I want to operate on you because I know I can cure you,’” she said. “I’ve never heard a doctor say something like that to someone in my entire life. I was shocked, but the only thing I could say was ‘It’s OK by me to operate.’

“It just felt like the right thing to do.”’

Taite had been resigned to the diagnosis she received elsewhere of Stage IV lung cancer – cancer that had spread to her adrenal gland. She had come to Cedars-Sinai for a biopsy and second opinion on her chemotherapy and radiation options. She completed a computed tomography (CT) scan in preparation for the procedure. The results of that scan drew the attention of Harmik J. Soukiasian, MD, director of the Thoracic Surgery Program, a part of the Women’s Guild Lung Institute.

“In many cases, lung cancer that has spread to other areas of the body can have dismal outcomes. But, in rare situations like this one, operating is a very viable option, and offers better outcomes for these patients,” Soukiasian said. “That’s the advantage of seeing an expert team at an institution like ours. We know the nuances of the disease, we have a high volume of cases, and we’re experienced in treating these rare cases. Our team is aggressive in treating these patients, and for Elaine, this meant removing the cancer in her lungs and her adrenal gland.”

Often lung cancer that has spread is inoperable. In Taite’s case, Soukiasian was able to remove her lung cancer and the cancer that spread to her adrenal gland.

Taite, a 71-year-old Encino native, was surprised by Soukiasian’s suggestion, but trusted him. Weeks after her initial diagnosis, Taite had surgery to remove the cancer from her lungs, followed by two sessions of chemotherapy. In early 2013, she had a second procedure at Cedars-Sinai to remove her adrenal gland.

While prognosis is different in everyone, Soukiasian said thoracic surgeons at Cedars-Sinai monitor patients very closely, typically every six months to a year for at least five years. Such surveillance has already proven beneficial in Taite’s case.

In December of 2105, Soukiasian removed a small spot from Taite’s lungs that had been detected by routine six-month CT scans. Later tests of the spot revealed it was a low-grade tumor. Following this procedure, Taite continued with her praises of Soukiasian and the thoracic surgery team.

“I love this man. He’s the best.’’ she said. “If he, and his colleagues, had not looked at my CT scans and made the decision to operate on me, I would be dead. I firmly believe that.”

While every cancer case is different, patients should always feel comfortable seeking second opinions – especially when they’ve been given a serious diagnosis, Soukiasian said.

In this case, a second opinion may have saved Taite’s life.