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Surgical Lung Biopsies: June 13, 2013

Lung cancer- it’s one of the most difficult cancers to detect early, making it difficult to treat effectively.

“That’s the problem of lung cancer, there’s no good screening right now. Only about 20% of the patients that get diagnosed with lung cancer are ever going to be a surgical candidate,” says Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, cardiothoracic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System medical staff.

By the time most patients are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to organs such as the bones and brain. To assess a mysterious mass quickly, patients may undergo a needle biopsy. Putting a needle through the chest wall into the lung and removing a tissue sample. The downside is that it puts people at risk for a collapsed lung and may not deliver accurate results.

“A lot of people get needle biopsies before they come and see us but those don’t really help us, because a negative needle biopsy before surgery really could be a false negative. They miss anywhere from 5-30% of the lesions with a needle,” says Dr. DiGiorgi.

Another option is a surgical approach, using the video-assisted or vats technique, surgeons operate through a few small incisions.

“Typically we take the whole mass out as part of the biopsy. The pathologist will tell us if it’s cancer or not. And then we proceeded accordingly. If it’s cancer we do the rest of the lung surgery and take out lymphoid and if it’s not cancer we stop,” says Dr. DiGiorgi.

The VATS approach is comparable to an open lung biopsy, but is less traumatic, leaving patients with quick results and a speedy recovery from the procedure.