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Family connection inspires med student Bright Huo

Nova Scotians who don’t smoke can sometimes slip through the cracks when it comes to lung cancer screening. Fourth-year Dalhousie medical student Bright Huo is working to change that.It’s a personal mission for Mr. Huo, who lost his father to lung cancer. “My parents immigrated to Canada from China to gain a better life for our family. My Dad was a cardiologist in Tianjin, but couldn’t re-license here, and we were poor when I was growing up.”

His dad was a healthy never-smoker but was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. “Our world completely changed,” recalled Mr. Huo. “I applied for medical school the following admission cycle, but he passed away months before seeing my acceptance.”

In his first year of med school, Mr. Huo approached Dr. Daniel French, a thoracic surgeon at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, with the idea of starting a lung cancer screening project for people who don’t smoke. “With his expertise, along with guidance from Dr. Alison Wallace, we realized that a series of questions needed to be addressed.”

Analyzing data from lung cancer patients, Mr. Huo found that half of Nova Scotians who had undergone lung resection for lung cancer would have been missed using current screening criteria, which focus on age and smoking status. “We need to identify other factors that can be incorporated into more inclusive screening models,” said Mr. Huo.

Detecting lung cancer early can improve patient outcomes and preserve health-care resources. “The problem with lung cancer is that its presentation is often insidious, and by the time a patient develops symptoms, it can be too late,” Mr. Huo said.

He has published his findings and presented his work at the American Association for Thoracic Surgery’s annual conference in Boston this past May.

The next phase of the project is investigating molecular mutations and environmental factors. He’ll also be surveying family doctors in Nova Scotia about their knowledge of lung cancer screening.

Looking ahead, Mr. Huo says he plans on specializing in thoracic surgery. “From our experience with my dad’s cancer, the surgeon was able to exert a tremendous, positive influence over our lives. I hope to emulate the level of care that we received, as well as the outstanding care that I have seen Dr. French and Dr. Wallace provide to their patients.”

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