November is awareness month for Lung Cancer, the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States. Doctors at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville are betting on new technologies to reverse that trend. Sarah Finch has more on a new lung biopsy device and how it’s changing healthcare options in eastern North Carolina.
In North Carolina alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 8,000 people will be diagnosed with lung or bronchus cancer this year. East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery Director Doctor Carlos Anciano says that lung cancer is decimating our population.
“When we start throwing numbers, they get so vague that people lose a little bit of what the true impact of lung cancer has in our society today. When you add up the next 5 cancers that happen together, they still don’t add up to the mortality, the number of deaths that lung cancer creates. About 430 to 450 people die daily from lung cancer.”
As an ECU physician, Doctor Anciano also works closely with Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. His colleague at Vidant, Doctor Mark Bowling, says they see a particularly high incidence of new lung cancer cases in the region than compared to the national average.
“In Eastern North Carolina we have a tremendously high amount of lung cancer. Since last November we’ve screened approximately 120 individuals and we’ve already found 12 cancers. In one of the largest trials, called the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, the average rate of lung cancer detection was 1 in 320. And you can see we’re already at 10 percent.”
Dr. Mark Bowling is also the Interventional Pulmonology Director at East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine. He went on to say that despite this overwhelming lung cancer data, the problem boils down to the individual.
“Statistics are statistics. But to the individual, there’s no such thing as a 50 or 60 percent. It’s either 100 percent or zero. It’s tough. I mean imagine. If you go to the doctor and the doctor says well I saw something weird in your lungs. This could be cancer. I would be very nervous about it and very anxious.”
Vidant Medical Center is currently the only hospital in the world using the new lung-biopsy tool called the CrossCountry. Medtronic, an internationally known medical technology company, selected Vidant to be the first to use this device because of their state-of-the-art hybrid operating rooms and the growing number of lung cancer cases in the region.
In a traditional lung examination, a doctor inserts a tube through a patient’s nose or mouth to examine the airway. It’s a common and effective way to investigate lung abnormalities, but Dr. Anciano says it is limited in that it can only reach the most central airway of the lung.
“The airways, they are like a tree that branches and branches and branches as you go deeper into the lungs to the points where you don’t branch anymore and you’re just in a microscopic open space.”
A Bronchoscope can only reach the main airway, but now the CrossCountry device allows access to microscopic portions of the lung. Along with a system that has GPS like qualities, doctors can guide a scope through the tiny airways to get a closer look at the tumor.
“It’s a fact that close to half of all lung cancers happen outside of these airways. And that’s where the cross country device comes in. The Cross Country device is a long narrow sheath that we navigate with, it goes outside of the airways, through the lung tissue until it reaches the area where the tumor or cancer is.”
Doctors say this new device prevents patients from having to undergo invasive surgical procedures. During the CrossCountry procedure, they are able to biopsy – remove a tissue sample – from a lung mass far removed from the patient’s central airway. This allows the doctors to provide a more accurate diagnosis without cutting into the patient. Dr. Bowling says the CrossCountry device can now help lung-cancer patients avoid complex surgeries and long hospital stays.
“It’s nice to be able to tell a patient, that when they come in, we want to do everything we can safely in that one sitting. And that’s really what we’re heading toward.”
The CrossCountry device is FDA approved and is considered a stepping stone in less-invasive approaches in the field of lung cancer. It expands the physician’s ability to deploy future markers, dyes or treatments with no more incision or pain to the patient. Doctor Anciano says he is honored to incorporate such a revolutionary tool to manage this relentless disease.
“It’s the combination of all these new technologies that takes us to the point where we are today being able to offer the best there is in our hands right now. It’s not just a matter of being able to go in there with a bronchoscope, its being able to tell the patient that we are at the right place, that we are getting the right tissue, that we are making the right decisions.”
This new lung-biopsy procedure is covered by most insurance plans including Medicare. Doctor Bowling says the CrossCountry tool also has the potential, in the near future, to deliver innovative treatments.
“The only thing that I would add is to really get the message out there of hope with lung cancer. You google it, it looks really bad. But I always remind folks, that things are moving at such a rapid pace, that I think in the next 10 years we’re going to see a huge dent. So I want people to know that you have to go after it. And I think being appropriately aggressive is what you have to do. It’s not a death sentence.”
Experts point out that lung cancer is not always caused by smoking, there are other genetic and environmental factors that may cause this prevalent disease. According to the Centers For Disease Control, people who smoke and who are between 55 and 80 years old should be screened annually.