• Cancer

    Innovation in lung cancer screening, treatment

Lung cancer is the largest cancer killer of adult men and women worldwide. One of the reasons is that by the time symptoms develop, the cancer is too advanced for a cure.

The goal of lung cancer screening is to detect cancer at an earlier stage and save more lives. Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, and it's recommended that anyone over 55 who has a significant history of smoking, even if they no longer smoke, should be screened.

Lung cancer screening, for those eligible, should be done annually, and it involves a low-dose CT scan of the lungs. Dr. Janani Reisenauer, a thoracic surgeon and interventional pulmonologist, says Mayo Clinic is one of the pioneers in using new technology to fight the disease.

Watch: Innovation in lung cancer screening, treatment

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A lung nodule or lesion is an abnormality revealed on a CT scan that looks like a cancer. And to find out if it is cancer, doctors may recommend a technique called bronchoscopy.

"Very similar to having a colonoscopy performed where somebody is holding a scope. They're twisting the dials on that scope as they're maneuvering that scope through your airway or through your intestines for example," says Dr. Reisenauer.

That's a traditional manual bronchoscopy. Dr. Reisenauer says Mayo Clinic is one of only a handful of medical centers approved by the Food and Drug Administration to use robotic bronchoscopy.

"I would think about robotic bronchoscopy as a remote-controlled car. It doesn't go anywhere without you driving it and telling it where to go. But rather than me holding a scope that's maneuvered through a patient, the scope is docked to a robotic instrument," says Dr. Reisenauer.

Offering more precision, flexibility and control than a traditional bronchoscopy. She says it improves the ability to not only diagnose lung cancer, but now, in some cases, treat it.

"Mayo Clinic is participating in many cancer trials now, where we are treating lung nodules with a variety of ablative mechanisms. So we're either using extreme heat or cold, or even in some cases electricity. Or viruses injecting into tumors to try to reduce tumor burden or kill tumors," says Dr. Reisenauer.