New technologies aid early detection of lung cancer

special to the herald-leaderJanuary 24, 2014 

More Americans die from lung cancer than any other cancer, and Kentucky leads the nation in both lung cancer incidence and lung cancer death; in fact, Kentucky's death rate of 75 per 100,000 is well above the national average of 55.

More than half of those with lung cancer will die within a year of diagnosis, but this number can be greatly reduced through early detection.

First, know the symptoms of lung cancer: lingering cough, chest discomfort, back pain, unexplained weight loss, general fatigue, and shortness of breath are all signs that a patient should see their physician. The health care provider will likely call for a chest X-ray, and after ruling out other possible conditions, may look toward further testing to fine-tune the diagnosis.

Fortunately, new technologies like an endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) and navigational bronchoscopy can help save lives through early detection, while being less invasive and more precise than traditional methods.

Navigational bronchoscopy is a technique that allows doctors to examine the major air passages of the lungs and collect small tissue samples. Traditional bronchoscopy cannot reliably reach the distant regions of the lung, and more invasive follow-up procedures are often required in order to reach a diagnosis.

During this bronchoscopy, the physician may opt to perform an EBUS, as well. EBUS is a technique that uses ultrasound technology to view the airway wall and structures adjacent to it. If abnormal areas are seen during the ultrasound, the doctor can then take a small tissue sample. The outpatient procedure is low risk and requires no recovery time, meaning patients can receive their diagnosis the same day.

This technology replaces an invasive diagnostic surgery where physicians would have to reach the lymph nodes through an incision in the neck, then perform a biopsy. Patients faced a recovery time of several days.

Performing the navigational bronchoscopy and EBUS together can help to not only diagnose lung cancer, but can provide significant amounts of information about the staging of the disease, or how far it has progressed.

Accurate staging early on in the diagnosis and treatment process may mean avoiding unnecessary surgeries and more invasive tests, leading to more precise care and a better treatment outcome.

Dr. Mahmoud Moammar is Director of ICU and Pulmonary Services at Saint Joseph East, part of KentuckyOne Health

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