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New treatment of lung cancer shows promise

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http://www.mlive.com/news/flintjournal/ ... xml&coll=5

FLINT TOWNSHIPTHE FLINT JOURNAL FIRST EDITIONTuesday, March 27, 2007By Shantell M. Kirkendollskirkendoll@flintjournal.com • 810.766.6366

FLINT TWP. - A new computer-guided radiation treatment being tested in Flint is giving new hope to lung cancer patients.

Lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer of U.S. men and women, is usually on a deadly rampage by the time it's discovered, and slim odds for survival are based on the success of surgery.

But like many patients, Nile Burger of Burton, who has a past history of heart trouble and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was not a candidate for surgery when he was diagnosed with lung cancer last winter.

And at 89 years old, any surgery would be tricky.

Burger connected with Dr. Hesham Gayar, medical director of radiation oncology at Great Lakes Cancer Institute-McLaren campus, who is leading a clinical trial to test stereotactic body radiation therapy.

Using multiple beams of radiation 10 times stronger than the normal dose, the radiation cuts away the tumor in the same way a surgeon would use a scalpel.

Burger faced significant risks. Although computer-generated 3-D images show doctors precisely where tumors are, the high-dose radiation could have torn a hole in his windpipe or esophagus or collapsed a lung.

"That scared the daylights out of me," said Burger, now 90, a former smoker. "But I was more scared of not trying anything."

Helen Burger says her husband was a bit "wobbly" after his last radiation treatment - his third.

Cancer patients usually endure weeks of daily radiation.

"If one person's life was saved, then it's worth what I went through," said Burger, a former autoworker and electrician.

So far, results from 17 patients who had the high-dose radiation treatment have been as successful as if patients had undergone the standard treatment of surgery, Gayar said.

"Some patients, even in the early stages, we cannot help," said Gayar. "Surgery's cure rate is about 70 percent, and for those who cannot do surgery, primary radiation can put survival at 20 percent to 30 percent."

Burger's tumor, once measuring 7 centimeters, has disappeared after the intense radiation treatment.

"Without it, considering the stage of his cancer, he wouldn't be sitting here today," Gayar said.

Doctors are still studying the best way to screen for lung cancer and catch it early when it's most curable. Currently, no option is standard.

Once such symptoms as coughing, chest pain or throat pain occur, the cancer is advanced. Asymptomic lung cancer, especially among women, is on the rise.

Wider use of CT scans is creating an added benefit: catching lung cancer tumors before symptoms arise.

As doctors read CT results, "They may say, 'Oh, here's a nodule (on the lung) we should check out,'" Gayar said.

In studies, CT scans have found tumors missed by X-rays. The risks and benefits of using expensive CT scans for screening are still being studied.

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