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Hi-Tech Technique for Lung Cancer: February 21, 2014

Until fairly recently the approach to diagnosing a suspicious lung lesion was go big with surgery or go small with a needle biopsy. Now doctors are using a new, less invasive approach to get results.

“It’s called VATS or Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery. So rather than making a larger incision in the chest wall and using a rib spreader to see exactly what’s going on in the chest, we can use a small incision with a five mm camera, which is about a quarter of an inch and look at the image on the TV screen,” says Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, cardiothoracic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

It’s a huge advantage for patients. Hospital stays are shorter and with less-trauma to the body- there is less pain. Both the standard procedure yet, the VATS technique is gaining traction.

“Nationally it’s still at around 50% roughly - give or take 10%. It has not caught on completely yet because it’s a learning curve,” says Dr. DiGiorgi.

Studies show this approach has fewer complications and the results are comparable to large, open operations. Although it’s performed through several small entry points with small equipment, the VATS procedure gives surgeons a great deal of freedom.

“For someone who has a suspicious lesion, what we typically will do is go in and do a biopsy of the mass. Typically we take the whole mass out as part of the biopsy. It is then that the pathologist will tell us if it’s cancer or not.  And then you can move on to a formal anatomic larger surgery where you take out part of the lung and take out lymph nodes,” says Dr. DiGiorgi.

Using the video assist, surgeons are lightening the load for lung cancer patients.