Breakthrough lung cancer surgery offers new hope

This allows patients who previously were not surgical candidates an option for a potentially life-saving treatment.

As one of the first sites in the country — and the only one in Louisville — to perform a breakthrough lung radiation surgery, Norton Cancer Institute is offering new hope for lung cancer patients like 68-year-old Etta Taylor.

Taylor is just the fifth patient in Louisville to undergo a revolutionary new treatment called cesium-131 brachytherapy. The procedure is considered a lung-sparing surgery because only a small section of lung, where the cancer is located, is removed. This allows patients who previously were not surgical candidates an option for a potentially life-saving treatment.

“The procedure uses a minimally invasive technique to remove a wedge of lung and insert a piece of dissolvable mesh that is implanted with radiation ‘seeds,’” said George J. Mikos, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon. “The patient then receives a continual dose of radiation over a period of time to remove any remaining cancer cells.”

Taylor, previously a smoker for more than 50 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in spring of this year.

“Because Etta had severe COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], we were concerned about her ability to breathe if a portion of her lung was removed. We wanted to preserve as much lung as possible,” Dr. Mikos said. “Based on the location of her tumor and the fact that it had not spread, Etta’s best treatment option was lung brachytherapy to improve her recovery after surgery as well as her long-term pulmonary function.”

Taylor underwent her brachytherapy procedure in May. It entailed just a few small incisions, which decreases the risk for blood loss and infection as well as aids in a quicker recovery.

“I was out of the hospital in three days and feeling good very quickly,” she said.

Because the lungs support breathing and are located near the heart and other vital structures, it is important for radiation treatment to be tightly focused to avoid damaging nearby healthy tissue. Since radiation is delivered only through the mesh implanted on the lung, surrounding organs and tissue are not affected.

In the past, lung cancer treatment commonly consisted of removing much of the lung. Elderly patients and those with serious health conditions could not tolerate such surgery. The new brachytherapy procedure allows physicians to offer hope for recovery to patients who did not have hope before.

According to Dr. Mikos, candidates for lung brachytherapy are those who have conditions that put them at high risk for complications from traditional surgery. They also must have cancer that is removable through surgery and that has not spread to other parts of the body.

Taylor now looks forward to many more years of enjoying her two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Lung CT: The latest in early detection

Detecting lung cancer earlier means more treatment options may be available, which improves success in removing all of the cancer.

Patients between ages 55 and 74 who smoke at least one pack of cigarettes a day and have done so for the past 30 years or who quit smoking fewer than 15 years ago may be eligible for lung computed tomography (CT) screening. Lung CT is better than the traditional chest X-ray because it creates two-dimensional images that show greater detail.


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