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Diagnosing Lung Cancer

D. Kyle Hogarth, MD and SuperDimension inReach System
D. Kyle Hogarth, MD, director of bronchoscopy and minimally invasive diagnostics, with the superDimension inReach System.

Doctors at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center use a variety of tools and techniques to diagnose lung cancer. These include:

  • Dual-energy chest X-rays, which help doctors find tumors that may be hidden behind bones when viewed in traditional X-rays
  • Computer-aided diagnosis, which allows radiologists to compare chest X-rays over time to detect subtle changes that could signal lung cancer
  • Computed tomography (CT), using a 256-slice scanner that can create hundreds of one-millimeter-thin “pictures” inside the chest to reveal very small lung cancers
  • Positron emission tomography (PET), which allows doctors to look at the metabolism of the tissue. This is important because cancer cells use sugar, or metabolize, faster than normal cells. PET can be particularly helpful when staging cancer to see if it has spread.

Blood tests, tissue samples, and tests such as bronchoscopy are also used to detect lung cancer. During a bronchoscopy, a doctor inserts a thin, flexible telescope through the nose or mouth into the lung. During the procedure, the doctor may take a sample of tissue in the lungs as well.

Finding Cancer Before It Starts

In recent years, advances in thoracic imaging have led to better detection of possible lung cancers.

For example, a technique called autofluorescence bronchoscopy can detect early changes in cells in the lungs called intraepithelial neoplasia--even before they become cancer. These changes account for as much as 29 percent of all lung cancer.

Unlike conventional bronchoscopy, the newer autofluorescence technology uses a different type of light to illuminate the lungs during a procedure. Better light allows doctors to see the smallest lesions, before they have had the chance to grow or invade other parts of the lungs. In fact, research has shown that autofluorescence bronchoscopy is twice as effective as traditional methods in detecting early stage lung cancer. In addition, the newer technique can be used to uncover some advanced cancers. »Learn more about advanced bronchoscopy

A Road Map for Finding Cancer

Standard bronchoscopes aren’t able to reach every part of the lung. In the past, the only option to reach these areas was surgery or a mediastinoscopy, which requires an incision in the throat. Yet one of the newest advances at the University of Chicago medical center helps patients avoid incisions and surgery, using a three-dimensional road map to detect lung cancer.

Called the superDimension inReach™ System, the technology allows doctors to identify --and, in many cases, treat--lung cancer that might be hidden within the airways of the lungs during a traditional bronchoscopy. This also means that tumors can be found and treated earlier, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

During an advanced bronchoscopy with the inReach technology, doctors insert a bronchoscope into the mouth or nose and down the windpipe to the lungs. Without incisions or surgery, doctors can locate cancer or pre-cancerous lesions with minimal discomfort and no scarring.