GREENVILLE- In a study recently published by a national medical journal, physicians at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (ECU) and Vidant Medical Center (VMC) demonstrate how a new type of technology is helping them diagnose lung cancers earlier. 

The study, published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (JNCCN), examined the impact of adding electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy (ENB) to a multidisciplinary thoracic oncology program like the one at Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center (LWJCC) – a joint venture between Brody and Vidant Health. 

Physicians at LWJCC, began using ENB as a diagnostic tool in 2012. The ENB is similar to a car’s GPS, or global positioning system. It’s a minimally invasive device that provides the physician with a three-dimensional roadmap of the lungs and facilitates access to hard-to-reach areas so suspicious nodules can be evaluated. With the introduction of ENB, some lesions that were previously inaccessible could be biopsied and even treated. 

“ECU and VMC are leading in the use of this technology because we have an aggressive multidisciplinary approach to lung cancer,” said Dr. Mark Bowling, director of interventional pulmonology. “The real value here is that those patients who have early-stage tumors that would previously have been very difficult to diagnose and treat – due to the location of the tumor or the patient’s other underlying illnesses – can now be diagnosed and potentially treated with targeted radiation therapy in a safe, comprehensive procedure. 

Bowling explained that the study aimed to examine the effect of this new device on the way cancer is diagnosed in a multidisciplinary clinic. Researchers compared the two years of data collected since the introduction of ENB with the two years before the introduction with respect to the stages of cancers diagnosed and the rates of fiducial marker placement, which are tracking markers for targeted radiation therapy. 

A total of 286 cases of non-small cell lung cancers were diagnosed in the two years before the introduction of ENB and 290 cases in the two years after. In the pre-ENB group, 67 patients had early stage disease (I and II) and 219 had late-stage (III and IV). In the post-ENB group, 116 patients had early-stage disease and 174 had late-stage disease. These results from the two-year period show a 73 percent increase in stage I and II lung cancer diagnoses and a 20.5 percent decrease in stage III and IV diagnoses. 

“The addition of this advanced diagnostic element to our preexisting approach increases the diagnosis of early-stage lung cancers, permits safer diagnosis and fiducial marker placement, and lowers the risk of a collapsed lung,” Bowling said. “Using this approach, there is hope that, in the population of patients who have inoperable early-stage lung cancers, a cure or lasting response may still be possible.” 

Along with Bowling, Brody physicians involved in the research were Dr. Paul Walker, chief of hematology and oncology, Dr. Craig Brown, associate program director of interventional pulmonology and Dr. Sharon Ben-Or, a thoracic surgeon with the Greenville Health System Cancer Institute.

Written By  Amy Holcombe