A Chat With Four Leading Doctors in the Hudson Valley
Meet four of the Valley’s Top Doctors in 2015
Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD is a specialist in cardio-thoracic medicine with Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates
Photographs by Ken Gabrielsen
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Meet Cleveland W. Lewis Jr., MD
Uniting two desires, a love of science and a wish to help others, ultimately led Cleveland Lewis, MD, to his career in medicine.
“I’ve always been interested in science,” says Lewis, who grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. “My father was a high school biology teacher who had always wanted to be a physician himself. But as an African American male — he was born in 1931 — growing up in North Carolina, my father’s chances of being a physician were not zero, but they were not high.”
Lewis says his dad never pushed him to become a doctor. “He did not give me undue pressure; it was something internal, something I always felt inside myself that I wanted to do.”
Lewis graduated from high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a public residential science and math academy for promising students located in Durham. He went to undergraduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He did his medical training, general surgery residency, cardio-thoracic surgery residency, and a fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine, and later moved to New York State.
Lewis is a specialist in cardio-thoracic medicine, which involves treatment of diseases of the chest. He’s now in a private group practice, Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, and heads the Lung Tumor Program and Oncology Quality teams at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown.
Lewis says that lung cancer is “by far the most prevalent disease that I deal with,” though he also treats benign masses, complications from problems such as pneumonia, and chest trauma, and other conditions.
“The biggest breakthrough in thoracic medicine in the past 10 years has been the development of minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery in the treatment of lung cancer,” he says, noting that studies have found that patient outcomes using the minimally invasive procedure are generally equal to traditional, chest-opening surgery. “The big differences with robotics are the reduction in time the patient stays in the hospital and the decrease in post-operative pain.”
Another big shift in the area of lung cancer involves a boost in screening for the disease. “Earlier this year, annual lung-cancer screening became approved by Medicare,” says Lewis. “With the Affordable Care Act, almost anything deemed preventative must now be covered by Medicare, so they’re coming on-board.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now authorize annual low-dose CT lung screenings for people age 55 to 74 who are current smokers who fall into certain categories, or who have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
“So now, the same way we have certain criteria for breast cancer, in terms of when it’s recommended to get a mammography, and when to have a colonoscopy for colon cancer, based on risk factors — this now also applies to lung-cancer screening.” The goal of these screenings is to decrease the number of people diagnosed with lung cancer.
Lewis notes that even though fewer people are smoking these days, “we haven’t yet seen a significant decrease in the incidence of lung-cancer deaths.” This is partly due to lag time, he says, in which the damaging results of smoking may not show up for decades.
“In the early part of the last century, lung-cancer deaths made up less than three percent of all deaths in this country, largely because, at that time, there weren’t manufactured cigarettes,” he says. “Now, lung-cancer deaths make up more than breast, colon, and prostate cancer [deaths] combined. Around 160,000 Americans are expected to die of lung cancer in 2015. So screening continues to be very important.”
Lewis, who lives in Newburgh, believes in setting a healthy example.
“I’m a big proponent of fitness,” says Lewis, who works out in the gym several times a week. A busy father, he also makes time to coach the kids’ basketball team at Bishop Dunn Memorial School in Newburgh. “With three boys, who are 14, 12, and seven years old, I guess I’m locked into coaching for the next several years,” he laughs.