Positioning technology enables bronchoscopy to give 3D images of complex lung structures

16 July 2008

A new type of bronchoscopy uses positioning technology to generate 3D images of the far reaches of complex lung structures. Called electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy, it is expected to help pulmonologists better diagnose lung cancer, pneumonia and various pulmonary infections.

"This new technology allows us to see safely and clearly into those deep regions of the lungs and diagnose exactly what's causing the respiratory problem," said pulmonologist Dr Suneel Kumar of the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, where the technology is being used.

Chest x-rays can show peripheral lesions in the lungs of patients, but only about half of those are accessible by traditional bronchoscopy, which involves inserting a flexible catheter tube down the patient's throat and into the lungs. Up to now, most lesions beyond the reach of a standard bronchoscopy were further investigated with more invasive procedures that had side effects some patients could not tolerate.

"This new technology allows us to more aggressively investigate the origin of disease in the lungs with less impact on the patient," said Presbyterian pulmonologist Dr Howard Mintz. "We're able to more accurately diagnose the condition of the lung and, in turn, better care for the patient."

The new system uses a steerable catheter that can also access and biopsy lymph nodes that are near the bronchial tree or trachea.

"This technology has the potential to help us diagnose complex problems of the lungs and thoracic cavity with a relatively simple procedure," said pulmonologist Dr Gary Weinstein, Presbyterian's chief of critical care medicine. "It's an example of technology truly improving clinical care and reducing impact on the patient."

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for improving survival rates in malignant lung disease. A recent study determined that lung lesions diagnosed early resulted in a survival rate of 88% at 10 years. Lung cancer patients diagnosed at Stage III or IV have survival rates around 15% at five years.

"There's a big need for a reliable diagnostic tool that's minimally invasive for patients but still provides quality analysis of tissue deep in the lungs," Dr Kumar said. "This system is a major step in that direction."

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