TUESDAY, Nov. 23 (HealthDay News) -- A less invasive method for finding out whether lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes could prevent many unnecessary operations, a new study suggests.
This process, called staging, is usually done via a major operation called a thoracotomy. If the cancer is confined to the lung, then the operation can remove the cancer. However, if the cancer has spread, then it is an unnecessary procedure, which only serves to increase the patient's discomfort.
The much less invasive procedure, called an endosonography, combines ultrasound of internal organs with the use of a fiberoptic endoscope, which can also biopsy the lymph nodes.
"We found that a new strategy using ultrasound is better to check for metastasis than traditional surgical staging," said lead researcher Dr. Jouke T. Annema, director of Endosonography for Pulmonary Medicine at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Staging the cancer is important, because the type of treatment depends on whether the cancer has spread beyond the lung or not.
If the lymph nodes are cancer-free, the patients will be treated by removing the cancer from the lung, Annema said. If there is cancer in the lymph nodes, then the treatment is completely different, with chemotherapy and radiation, he explained.
The current standard of thoracotomy to stage cancer results in many patients not receiving the best treatment, Annema said. Using endosonography will make it possible to reduce unnecessary lung operations by half, he added.
The findings are published in the Nov. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study follows on the heels of a major U.S. government report that found that annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans cut death rates in older, current or former heavy smokers by 20 percent. The scans also reduced d
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