If you’re between the ages of 55 and 79, a current smoker (or a former smoker who has quit within the past 15 years) and have a 30-pack-year history,* you might be worried that you could develop lung cancer.
Being screened could put your mind at ease, and might save your life. Studies have shown that screening is beneficial for people who do not have lung cancer symptoms and fit the age
and smoking criteria described above. In fact, screening before symptoms are present can dramatically increase survival rates, because if cancer is detected by screening, it is likely to be at an early stage when the potential for cure is greater.
The most effective type of screening is low-dose CT scan screening, which has proven to be superior to plain X-rays in detecting growths in the lung called nodules, which may or may not be cancerous. The evidence for better survival rates among people who are screened with low-dose CT scans is so strong, in fact, that Medicare recently approved CT screening for high-risk individuals without any out-of-pocket costs.
Now, revolutionary technology called Veran’s SPiN Thoracic Navigation System enables pulmonary specialists to precisely locate and biopsy lung nodules, regardless of size or position. A patient’s CT scan is used to generate a virtual bronchial tree “roadmap” through the natural airways of the lungs, similar to how a GPS provides a navigation path when driving. Following the roadmap, the physician uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube called a bronchoscope to find lung nodules so they can be biopsied or marked.
If it is not possible to access a nodule through the airways of the lung, the physician can use the system’s “SPiNPerc” capability to reach the nodule through
the skin instead.
A significant advantage of the Veran system is that it prevents the need for multiple procedures to diagnose and stage lung nodules. It allows pulmonary and thoracic specialists to get a quick, accurate lung cancer diagnosis with a single procedure, so if cancer treatment is needed, it can begin without delay.
Phelps recently became the first hospital in Westchester to acquire and use the Spin Thoracic Navigation System. The first procedure was performed by Avraham Merav, MD, Phelps’ Chief of Thoracic Surgery and director of the Westchester Lung Nodule Center.
“Often we are faced with a patient who has a small, suspicious abnormality in the lung and we need to reach that area to either obtain tissue samples or to mark it so it can be easily found during a surgical procedure,” says Dr. Merav. “Before this technology, we were limited to reaching nodules with a needle inserted through the skin under CT guidance, and the nodules were sometimes inaccessible.”
Another challenge that surgeons sometimes face – without the benefit of the Veran technology – is finding small nodules that have not been marked. After his first use of the Veran system, Dr. Merav described its effectiveness: “We inserted a needle through the skin and injected a blue dye to mark the nodule, which helped us accurately locate it and remove it for examination. Within half an hour, we had the biopsy results showing that the nodule was malignant. We proceeded with the appropriate operation and the patient went home two days later.”
“This system helps find lung cancer at its earliest stage, significantly improving the chances of cure,” says Dr. Merav. “Ultimately, this helps us save lives!”
* The number of “pack years” equals the number of packs smoked each day times the number of years smoked.