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Modern Biopsy Techniques Changing the Scope of Lung Cancer Diagnoses

Gina Columbus @ginacolumbusonc
Published: Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Susan Garwood, MD

Susan Garwood, MD

Technological advancements introduced in the field of oncology over the last few years are changing the way lung cancer diagnoses are made, but experts say more practices still need to utilize these techniques instead of standard tissue biopsies. For example, electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy is gaining increasing acceptance as a diagnostic tool for lung cancer.1 The bronchoscopic technique uses a global positioning system designed to produce accurate navigation to peripheral pulmonary target lesions. This can be used as a biopsy of peripheral lung lesions, pleural dye marking of nodules for surgical wedge resection, placement of fiducial markers for stereotactic radiotherapy, and therapeutic insertion of brachytherapy catheters into malignant tissue.

Moreover, endobronchial ultrasound is another advancement that has had a positive impact on the field.2 Endobronchial ultrasound mini-probe allows the multilayered structure of the tracheobronchial wall to be precisely analyzed more effectively than fluoroscopic guided biopsy. The endobrochial ultrasound-transbronchial needle aspiration is utilized for mediastinal lymph node staging of lung cancer, which has also proven to be cost-effective.

“It has revolutionized my practice so much so that this is all that I do,” said Susan Garwood, MD. “I go from traditional pulmonary to really interventional-based diagnoses of lung cancer and staging. It has really been a game changer to shift the stage of lung cancer.” 

Garwood, an interventional pulmonologist at TriStar Centennial Medical Center, and Physician Lead, Thoracic Oncology at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, discussed these biopsy advancements and the future of such techniques in an interview during the 2017 OncLive® State of the Science Summit on Advanced Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer.

OncLive®: Can you provide an overview of your presentation?

Garwood: I talked about how biopsy techniques really impact patients not only from a diagnosis, but from the importance of how you obtain tissue. We really want to inform those in the medical community about biopsy techniques—specifically,biopsy tools—to get large pieces of tissue with techniques such as navigational bronchoscopy and endobronchial ultrasound. These things, unfortunately, aren’t common all over the nation, but we do have access. It really makes a big difference to expedite care, get a concise evaluation and staging of the patient, and get enough tissue to do molecular testing—which is important to matching best treatment and personalized care with our patients.  What impact have you noticed that this has on patients?

To me, this has truly revolutionized my whole career. When I began looking into new diagnostic techniques, it allowed me to realize that diagnosing earlier and shifting the stage of lung cancer required a better tool. Now, we have a better tool with navigational bronchoscopy in the ability to rule out distant disease with things that are safe and concise for the patient. What we have been able to see is that we can get to lesions we have never been able to get to before. So, those early-stage patients who have been in watchful waiting, or for whom we have just been waiting for things to grow, now we can connect them with technology that allows earlier diagnoses. We all know that an earlier diagnosis means a better chance of cure.

What are some of the next steps the field needs to start taking?

As we look into screening, we also realize that the same problem exists all over the country with incidental pulmonary nodules that are far more common than those we see with screening. What do we do to make sure that we are not taking patients who don’t have cancer to surgery? We need to be able to apply tools and techniques to help us look deeper into these patients to let us know not only if they’re high risk because of age or smoking, but what else can we find? What else can we look at? Can we look at nasal swabs, blood, or sputum to say, “This patient has lung cancer and we should do something instead of watchful waiting.”

View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Year in Review™: Reflecting on Recent Evidence With an Eye to the Future of Lung Cancer ManagementMar 30, 20191.5
Online Medical Crossfire®: 5th Annual Miami Lung Cancer ConferenceMay 30, 20196.5
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