Technology aids in cancer diagnosis accuracy

December 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A new technology is helping to guide doctors into the furthest reaches of their patient's airways and giving them a far more accurate way of diagnosing potential cancers.

In an operating room at El Camino Medical Center in Mountain View, Dr. Alan Chausow follows a computerized virtual map of a patient's lungs, leading to a suspicious lesion hiding deep in the narrow outer branches of the patient's airways.

"She has known lymphoma, and this could be a reoccurrence of lymphoma in the lungs, or could be something completely different," says Dr. Alan Chausow.

To find out, he inserts a tiny steerable probe to clip a sample. A camera, or bronchoscope, guides it the first part of the way. But eventually, the smaller airways will become too narrow for the scope.

"The airways branch and then branch again and then branch again, so once you get past a certain point if the lesion you're going for is not that big, then you can very well miss it," says Dr. Chausow.

That's when the doctor turns to the computer map he built with a new program called Super Dimension. It uses CAT scan images of the patient's lungs to create a virtual 3D replica of the airways.

To make the map accurate in real-time, a sensor pad is placed underneath the patient, which picks up an electromagnet signal from the tip of the catheter. Once the signal is calibrated with the virtual map, the doctor can simply follow pre-marked way-points on the screen, almost like a GPS.

A technician demonstrated it for ABC7, using the patient's own scan.

Within minutes of reaching the precise location of the lesion, Dr. Chausow takes a biopsy sample, which according to clinical trials, will be two to three times more likely to produce an accurate diagnosis of whether the suspicious lesion is cancer.

The biopsy did come back positive for lymphoma.

Doctors can also use the technology to insert markets directly onto the interior surface of the lungs making it easier to locate the section by a surgeon if in fact it needs to be removed.


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