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Fairmont General has new tool for lung cancer

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Illustration courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America Illustration courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America

For The State Journal

Doctors at Fairmont General Hospital can reach deeper into the lungs to diagnose and treat cancer with a new tool.

The hospital recently purchased navigational bronchoscopy equipment, a probe that's electromagnetically guided into the smallest passages of the lungs to collect tissue samples.

The hospital foundation raised $166,000, exceeding its campaign goal of $129,000, said Foundation Coordinator Whitney Hatcher. 

And the extra money was needed.

The machine cost $129,327 but the hospital had to also buy an additional therapeutic scope for $26,252 putting expenses at $155,579. When all the money is collected by July — most of it is pledges — the remaining funds will be used to buy more needles and other supplies needed to do the procedures, Hatcher said.

A golf outing in June raised 11 percent of the total and the foundation received a large gift from the estate of longtime hospital volunteer Norma Heine. Some of the money is gifts from corporations and donations from the community, including businesses and individuals called The Generals Club, who give $100-$9,999 to the hospital foundation, she said.

"We couldn't have done it without the community and employees," Hatcher said. "Making a difference in patient care is always our main goal and that's why everybody comes together and helps for these causes."

Dr. Prasad Devabhaktuni has been using the equipment since December, and it's already making a difference in patient care.

Navigational bronchoscopy has resulted in three diagnoses of lung cancer so far, said Dawna Freeland, manager of the respiratory department at Fairmont General who assists Devabhaktuni in the procedures.

"One of which was a repeat that we didn't get a diagnosis with regular bronchoscopy and ultrasound but we did with navigational bronchoscopy," Freeland said. "With navigational bronchoscopy, Dr. Devabhaktuni can get right into the lesion if we're seeing it on a CT scan, hopefully resulting in an earlier diagnosis so treatment can start."

The equipment also helps in treatment. The doctor can place metal markers in the lungs around the lesions to help radiation therapists direct a high dose precisely at the tumor, reducing the exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

The navigational bronchoscope is smaller than the standard flexible bronchoscope typically used to examine lung tumors. Normal bronchoscopes are too large to pass into the smaller bronchi at the periphery of the lungs, where more than two-thirds of masses are located, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

The doctor does a CT scan to locate masses in the lungs he wants to examine. The scan is used to create a 3-D map on which the doctor plots a path through the lung to reach the targeted lesions.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America describes the procedure: The patient lies on a low-frequency electromagnetic bed. A bronchoscope, containing an extended working channel (EWC) and locatable guide, is inserted into the patient's airway, down the trachea and into the bronchi. The electromagnetic bed allows the doctor to view the locatable guide in real time on the virtual map to carefully guide the scope deep into the lung. The doctor is able to control the movement and direction of the locatable guide as it travels into the smallest bronchiole. Once a target lesion is reached, the locatable guide is removed and a surgical instrument is passed through the EWC to collect a biopsy for testing. 

The procedure is minimally invasive compared to traditional lung biopsy procedures, requires less time to recover and can be done on an outpatient basis.

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