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New program in Augusta Hospital!!!


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AUGUSTA, GA - Surgery remains the most successful tool for fighting lung cancer, but doctors at the Medical College of Georgia have added two new tools for going after tumors without picking up a scalpel.

And for those who do undergo surgery, MCG has begun using new techniques that will cut recovery time in half. Plus, the hospital is about to become part of a lung cancer vaccine trial.

Discussion of these new developments occurred last week during the October meeting of MCG’s Thoracic Oncology Research Group. The group includes a wide range of cancer researchers, including the director of the MCG Cancer Center, Dr. Kapil Bhalla.

Dr. Albert Chang, assistant professor in the Department of Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, announced two of the improvements in treatment.

Chang said surgery for lung cancer can now be completed through a much smaller incision and without spreading the ribs of the patient. That allows recovery time to be cut in half and now patients can be released from the hospital in about three days.

In the past, surgeons have used an incision of about 12 inches to get into the lungs. Now, they need an incision of about three inches, plus one small incision for a camera to be inserted. Yet they’re able to accomplish the same removal of tumors.

Chang said MCG would be the only hospital in the region using this technique on a widespread basis.

Because patients heal so much more quickly, more of them are able to move onto chemotherapy. However, no data is available yet on whether this will extend lives.

Chang noted that even in patients whose lung cancer is identified before it spreads to other organs, surgery may not be an option. That’s because they have other complications, often related to smoking, such as heart disease or emphysema, that make surgery too risky.

For those patients, two new non-surgical methods are being implemented. Chang explained one, a technique called radio frequency ablation.

Doctors insert a catheter directly into the cancer tumor where a device extends tiny tines out into the tumor. Then radio waves are pumped into the tumor, raising the temperature inside the tumor to about 180 degrees. That essentially cooks the tumor.

Some patients are able to return home the day of the procedure, and most go home by the next day, Chang said.

However, he doesn’t see the treatment as a replacement for surgery, primarily because with radio frequency ablation it is very difficult for doctors to know if they’ve actually killed the entire tumor.

Dr. John Greskovich Jr., MCG’s new medical director for radiation treatment, announced the new Trilogy equipment that the hospital has acquired for stereo radiosurgery.

Radiology has used radiosurgery on tumors in the brain with a tool called a Gamma Knife. It focuses multiple beams of radiation on tiny targets inside the cranium. Surrounding areas are not affected.

With Trilogy, physicians will be able to use similar highly focused radiation treatments on tumors in the lungs or other organs.

Dr. David Munn also announced that he’ll be working on a new lung cancer vaccine trial with NewLink Genetics.

As Munn explained, cancer tumors are seen by the immune system as though they’re part of the patient’s body, and not some foreign attacker. “One of the problems is that the immune system doesn’t understand how foreign tumors should be considered,” Dr. Munn told the group.

The vaccine is designed to boost the body’s immune response to cancer tumors. In phase one trials, the cancer has responded but the vaccine hasn’t cured the cancer, Munn said. However, there is evidence that, after the vaccine, treatment reduces the body’s tolerance of the tumor so that other therapies such as chemotherapy become much more effective.

Munn sees potential for the vaccine to become part of a multi-level approach to fighting lung cancer.

About 170,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. In 2005, about 160,000 patients died from the disease.

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