Interventional pulmonologist at UT Health Science Center at Tyler treats tiny cancerous tumors in the lungs

Thursday, September 25, 2008

For East Texas Healthcare, Longview News-Journal, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008

Just as your car’s GPS can keep you from taking a wrong turn, a similar system at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler now can locate and treat tiny cancers that lurk in the recesses of the lung.

In the hands of Ted McLemore, MD, Ph.D., a world-renowned interventional pulmonologist, this cutting-edge technology can navigate through the lung’s branching airways to treat cancerous lesions as small as 6 millimeters, slightly bigger than the length of a grain of rice.

Interventional pulmonology is a relatively new field, focused on developing non-surgical procedures to diagnose and treat both malignant and benign lesions inside the lung.

UT Health Science Center is one of a handful of medical centers in the United States offering these advanced procedures.

“Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States. It kills more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. It’s a devastating disease,” says Dr. McLemore, director of interventional pulmonology at UTHSCT.

Just 15 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive for five years after their diagnosis.

Dr. McLemore has dedicated his life to improving this survival rate.

“This new technology and new radiology techniques enable us to see things on x-rays that we weren’t able to see in the past. This will enable us to diagnose and treat lung cancer at an earlier stage and thus improve lung cancer survival rates,” he says.

“These lesions grow in the lungs, but the patient usually has no symptoms until the lesions get very large and block an airway or break open a major artery and cause bleeding,” explains Dr. McLemore, who is board certified in internal medicine and has a Ph.D. in molecular biology.

The GPS-like technology is called electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy.

Using data from a special, three-dimensional CT scan, Dr. McLemore and his team first program a road map into the electronic navigation system. Then the system is introduced into the bronchoscope, a hollow flexible tube inserted into the patient’s nose or mouth to provide a view of the airways.

“Electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy allows us to guide biopsy tools to the edge of the lung by using a CT road map. We superimpose our plan directly on the patient’s real-time anatomy. We literally plan out our trip to the lesion. Once we get there, we can biopsy it, we can diagnose it, and we can even treat the lesion directly, using the same technology,” Dr. McLemore says.

These new advances in diagnosing and treating cancerous lesions without the risks and complications of open lung surgery are the most exciting advances Dr. McLemore has ever seen, even surpassing research he conducted during his eight years with the National Cancer Institute.

While an open lung procedure has about a 5 percent mortality rate – which can be higher if the patient is already in bad health – non-surgical procedures such as electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy are done under conscious sedation.

In this state, patients have a minimum level of consciousness while continuing to breathe on their own and to respond to verbal communication.

Even patients with bad lung disease can undergo these procedures. And, by diagnosing benign lesions in the lung, Dr. McLemore and his team spare patients from having unnecessary surgery.

Dr. McLemore stresses that such advanced procedures require a great team of excellent radiologists, pulmonary pathologists, thoracic surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, and nursing staff.

One crucial team member is UTHSCT’s Timothy Allen, MD, the only board-certified pulmonary pathologist in East Texas.

“Interventional pulmonology is where interventional cardiology was about 15 years ago. In the next 10 years, we anticipate that no one will have to undergo open lung biopsies to diagnose whatever kind of lung disease they have, because of all of these new technologies,” Dr. McLemore says.

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