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New thoracic surgeon focused on early lung cancer detection

Apr 15, 2019, 03:00 AM
Dr. Leone

Thoracic Surgeon Richard Leone, MD, PhD, FACS has a great passion and energy for his work with patients. You can see it in his face and hear  it in his voice as he talks about making a difference in a patient’s life – especially a person facing a lung cancer diagnosis.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and it is very satisfying to be able to make an impact on this disease in many patients’ lives,” he said. “We have made tremendous progress in recent years in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer and now have new methods that are less invasive and more effective in treating and curing more patients than ever before.”

Dr. Leone joined Skagit Regional Health in 2019 after 14 years as Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.  

He brings expertise in minimally invasive lung surgery, including use of state-of-the-art Electromagnetic Navigational Bronchoscopy, which is a “GPS for the lungs,” he said. Coupled with Endobronchial Ultrasound,  this new equipment at Skagit Valley Hospital is the latest in diagnosing and treating cancer in a less invasive way. Using these systems, Dr. Leone can steer through the airways with the bronchoscope to take samples  of lung tissue for biopsy or to mark tumors for surgery.

“We can do really exciting things with this new technology,” Dr. Leone said, noting that when surgery is required, the patient benefits from smaller incisions and less recovery time.

“I feel I have an obligation to provide truly exceptional and modern care to my patients,” Dr. Leone said. “I am grateful to have found an organization that shares my passion for exceptional care.”

Dr. Leone’s practice focuses on the lungs, including diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, in partnership with Skagit Regional Health’s general surgeons and radiation and medical oncologists. Minimally invasive techniques have replaced many procedures, requiring much smaller incisions and using video-assisted thoracic surgical techniques to work between the ribs, even to remove lobes of the lungs. 

“Early stage lung cancer is very curable,” Dr. Leone said. “Surgery for early stage lung cancer can cure up to 80 percent of patients if the cancer has not spread. When we can cure a patient of cancer, it is incredibly rewarding.”

Dr. Leone and his team are also completing training in robotic surgical techniques using the da Vinci® Xi™ Surgical System at Skagit Valley Hospital. “The robot offers amazing visualization and offers us the next-step in minimally-invasive surgery for lung cancer,” he said. 

Screening for lung cancer is also advancing and Skagit Regional Health offers low-dose CT screening at Cascade Valley Hospital which is now covered by Medicare for patients ages 55 to 77.

“Most of the time, lung cancer has no symptoms at all until the disease is very advanced,” he said. “CT scanning is the best way to identify early, treatable lung cancers.”

Dr. Leone participates in the multi-disciplinary cancer conference held weekly at the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center and has plans for a thoracic oncology conference in the future to review abnormal CT scans and patients referred by community providers.

“Medicine today is a team  sport. The care of patients with any illness, particularly cancer, requires  a cohesive, supportive and highly functioning team,” Dr. Leone said.  “Patients don’t need to go to Seattle for anything, we have it right here, the full continuum of care.”

Dr. Leone earned a PhD in cardiovascular physiology at Rutgers University and received his Medical Degree from Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. He completed fellowships in Thoracic Surgical Oncology at the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and in Cardiothoracic Surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital – Cornell University Medical Center in New York and completed his residency in general surgery at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  He has been elected as a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS), the American College of Cardiology (FACC) and the American College of Chest Physicians (FCCP).

When he is away from work, Dr. Leone and his wife, Kathy, enjoy spending time with their daughters, ages 2 and 4, and outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing.


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