Cyberknife surgery increasing survival rates for lung cancer patients



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Posted on April 28, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 28 at 5:56 PM

Lung cancer kills about 160,000 people in the U.S. every year.  One of the biggest problems: one-quarter of lung cancer patients are too sick, too old or too weak to survive surgery.  Until recently, there were few options, but now doctors are finding ways to beat the odds

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer. It takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. So how did these women end up cancer-free?"

"When you first hear, 'You have cancer,' you don't expect to get over it like I did," said Frances Nirich, lung cancer survivor.

Nirich is one of about 55,000 people who are told they're too sick, too old or too weak for surgery. She enrolled in a study to see if the cyber-knife can help those who can't go under a real knife.

"While you're radiating a tumor that moves, you can hit it with millimeter precision," said Dr. Brian Collins, radiation oncologist at Georgetown University.

The device shoots radiation into the tumor without harming the rest of the lungs, even as the patient breathes in and out. A five-year study found cyber-knife destroyed 95 percent of tumors. The three-year survival rate: 80 percent. It's a big difference from traditional radiation, which destroys 30 percent of tumors and carries only a 30 percent survival rate.

Lung cancer patient Jennifer Hoppock didn't want major surgery.

"We're now using smaller, keyhole incisions and telescopes with long instruments," Dr. Michael Smith, thoracic surgeon, St. Joseph's Hospital.

Instead of an eight-inch incision between the ribs, surgeons make a few inch-long incisions and use a camera to find the tumor.

"I went back to work after three weeks," said Hoppock.

Two lung cancer patients-turned-survivors thanks to technology that's providing new options. The cyberknife and video-assisted thoracic surgery--or VATS for short - are available at Swedish Medical Center. The VATS procedure is also performed through the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

For more information:

Seattle CyberKnife Center
Swedish Medical Center - VATS
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance - VATS