SF hospital pioneering new technique to diagnose, treat lung cancer

A hospital in San Francisco is using a revolutionary new procedure to treat lung cancer. This new technique involves diagnosing, locating and treating the cancer all in one procedure.

Inside an operating room in Sutter California Pacific Medical Center's Van Ness Campus, a medical team is using a pioneering new procedure to battle lung cancer.

Patients often don't see a doctor until the onset of symptoms, meaning the cancer has advanced, "which takes the five-year survival rate for these patients down to 10% to 20%," said Dr. Heba Ismail, director of the lung cancer program at Sutter CPMC.  "Versus when it's discovered at early stages the five-year survival can be 95% of 97%."

Using a set of artificial lungs, Ismail walked KTVU through the new technique, using robotic bronchoscopy. 

Doctors can guide a scope deep into the branches of a patient's lungs to locate a suspicious mass. The device itself has been used around 200 times here.

But now, the team is using it in a revolutionary way, called the Assisted Single Anesthetic Procedure. Doctors use the scope to locate any suspicious masses, but then take it a step further, taking a sample of that mass for biopsy, testing it and even treating the cancer all in one four-to-five-hour procedure instead of the usual process, which can take up to eight weeks. 


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"We will go with the robotic bronchoscopy, navigate to that region, get a diagnosis within 10–15 minutes of getting the biopsy," said Ismail. "If it's cancerous we will put a dye on there, and then while the patient is asleep the surgeon will make a very small incision in the patient's chest and take that part out."

Patients stay in the hospital for a day or two and can then go home.  Doctors here say streamlining the diagnosis and treatment all in one procedure means more lives saved. 

"So, by condensing the time you're really trying to minimize the chances of upstaging or advancement of the cancer between diagnosis and treatment," said Dr. George Horng, from Pulmonary Critical Care Medicine at Sutter CPMC.

This innovative technology is already saving lives at Sutter CPMC. 

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and the staff at Sutter CPMC will have a screening for patients. They're urging anyone, over the age of 50 and who's smoked to talk with their doctor about setting up their own screening.