Your Health: New lung navigation system finds cancer

New lung navigation system is a less invasive way to detect cancer.
New lung navigation system is a less invasive way to detect cancer.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Trying to find a lesion in the lung is tricky business for doctors.  Most rely on a CT Scan.  But there is a new lung navigation system that is turning heads in the medical community.

Former smoker, Paul McCracken had part of a cancerous lung removed in 2003, so doctors were careful to watch him for any new lesions.

A diagnosis of non small cell carcinoma was confirmed in 2011 in the other lung.  But this time, physicians used a different method to find the cancer - a type of scope.

"What this allows us to do, rather than use the force, we have an electromagnetic system, almost like a GPS system, that guides us through the tracheal bronchial tree," said Pulmonologist, Dr. Jason Smith.

"When I woke up, everything was done and the area he had to get into the lung was a hard area to get into and they've come so far with this bronchial scope now that they can maneuver more," said McCracken.

That helps the doctor with his diagnosis.

"So in essence, instead of trying to look at a tree and I'm trying to find a spot in the branches where the leaves are, I've got a guide to guide me through all the trunks, limbs etc.  So it enhances my chances of diagnosis," said Dr. Smith.

And that can find anything from pneumonia to cancer.

"When we find lung cancer, 80 percent of patients have it spread so that we can't do anything for cure, so only 20 percent of the folks we find actually have a chance for some kind of cure," he said.

That usually involves radiation or surgery.

McCracken had 16 radiation treatments.

"If in a safe way we're able to be aggressive and do an outpatient manner, then so much the better. Whether it gives them a peace of mind that this is an infection or an inflammation or 'oh wow we have cancer,' we can start moving toward treatment," said Dr. Smith.

McCracken goes for a follow up CT Scan in April.

"I feel great, doing good.  Everything seems to be going well," he said.

He said he's also grateful for the scope.

"With any disease, you know, the earlier they can detect it, the better your chances are and the easier your treatments are," said McCracken.

Chest Med is the only practice in North Alabama to use this technology.

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