Pulmonologist Mark Dransfield, left, will argue against screening for lung cancer against an opponent he says is knowledgeable and formidable. 'This is a Miracle on Ice moment for me,' he says. Thoracic Surgeon Robert Cerfolio, right, will argue in favor of screening for lung cancer against an opponent loaded with information. 'All the data supports his side, which should make it fun for me,' he says.

This promises to be a year of great debate. No, not between the Republicans and the Democrats — between Robert Cerfolio, M.D., and Mark Dransfield, M.D.

While the upcoming presidential race and associated debates promise to be entertaining if not enlightening, Cerfolio and Dransfield are guaranteed to deliver on both fronts when they debate a key health issue: Should there be screenings for lung cancer?

The doctors will argue their positions in The Great Debate 2008: Screening for Lung Cancer. The debate, part of surgical grand rounds, will take place Thursday, Jan. 10 from 5 to 6 p.m. in conference room E of the West Pavilion. The general public is invited to attend, though seating will be limited.

Judging the debate will be Kirby Bland, M.D., professor and chair of surgery; Nancy Dunlap, M.D., Ph.D., chief of staff, Kirklin Clinic; and Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Cerfolio is arguing for lung cancer screening; Dransfield is arguing against it. And the gamesmanship has already begun.

“All the data supports his side,” Cerfolio says, “which should make it fun for me.”

First of its kind

The Great Debate 2008 is the first of its kind at UAB. It was organized by William Bailey, M.D., professor of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care. Bailey says his reason for organizing the debate is simple; he believes it creates a unique environment for internists and surgeons to learn together.

“It seems to me the best opportunity to learn, especially about some controversial issues, is to hear people on each side of the issue defend their position,” Bailey says. “Screening for lung cancer is one of the controversial things in medicine out there today. You can be a believer on either side of the question without really knowing scientifically if you’re right because right now the answer is not clear. “The answer is debatable.”

Bailey says debates often are held at national meetings, but they tend to be conducted in a specialist format.

“It might be a thoracic surgeon debating another thoracic surgeon,” Bailey says. “But we will have a surgeon and internists debating. It’s going to give us the opportunity for the surgeons and internists to get together in an educational format and learn from each other. I think that’s something we miss out on quite a bit. It’s rare to have a joint opportunity for debate and discussion."

To screen or not to screen
The debate over screening for lung cancer has been going on for several years. Some believe scheduling regular screenings enable physicians to catch lung cancer in its infancy, reducing the mortality rate. Studies are taking place across the country to see if this is possible, including one at UAB being conducted by Dransfield and Mona Fouad, M.D.

Is it possible screening would work? “It’s possible, yes,” Dransfield says, “but only if we choose to make lung cancer the nation’s No. 1 health priority.”

The question is not an easy one to answer. But Bailey says if anyone is qualified to argue the pros and cons of lung cancer screening it’s Cerfolio and Dransfield.

“Dr. Cerfolio is, I think, one of the preeminent thoracic surgeons in the country and probably does more lung cancer surgery than anyone in the country,” Bailey says. “Dr. Dransfield is an outstanding young researcher and one of our most effective clinicians in our division. He knows what to do when it comes to lung cancer.”

Bailey is so excited about the possibilities for this debate he’s considering the possibility of scheduling one or two others for 2008.

“We will see how this goes,” he says. “If it’s a success, yes, there are other issues we can put forward for debate.”

But for now the focus – and the pressure – are on Dransfield and Cerfolio. Dransfield says his opponent is knowledgeable and formidable. He’s just hoping not to get embarrassed, he says.

“Dr. Cerfolio is one of the preeminent thoracic surgeons in the country so he is certainly a worthy adversary and I must be considered the underdog,” Dransfield says. “This is a David and Goliath, Hoosiers, Miracle on Ice moment for me.”