GPS tracks down lung cancer

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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SAN DIEGO, Cali. - Each year, 200,000 Americans are told they have lung cancer and 160,000 die. The disease is often deadly because patients are diagnosed in the late stages when the cancer has spread. Now, there's a new way to spot tumors earlier that is like a GPS system for the lungs. 

Natalie Barnhill was diagnosed with lung cancer when doctors spotted the growth on a scan. They told her about the new biopsy method.

"It's basically like a GPS system," explained Samir Makani, MD, FCCP, Director, Interventional Pulmonology and Bronchoscopy, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Diego and San Diego VA Healthcare System.

Makani performs electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy. First, he maps the target using special software. Then, he places a bronchoscope down the patient's windpipe. A catheter navigates to the tumor in real-time.

"It just takes me to where the lesion is," Makani explained.

A traditional biopsy may require a needle through the chest and into the lung and could cause bleeding, or a collapsed lung. Electromagnetic navigation nearly eliminates the risks.

"It's really allowed us to biopsy areas that we weren't able to biopsy before, prove that there is lung cancer there, and then provide them with early definitive therapy," Makani said.

Because of this technology, Barnhill was diagnosed in the early stages. She's now celebrating a special milestone.

"It was my last chemo!" she exclaimed.

Barnhinll is determined to beat the same cancer that killed her mother and her aunt. She's now cancer free.

Additional Information:

Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that grow uncontrollably in one or both lungs. These abnormal formations may cause tumors that may prevent oxygen being transported to the body. There are two forms of lung cancer: primary and secondary. Primary lung cancer originates in the lungs and may travel to another part of the body. Secondary lung cancer occurs when cancer forms in another part of the body, then spreads to the lungs. (Source:

SYMPTOMS: At times, symptoms for lung cancer may take years to develop. They may not even be noticed until the disease has progressed. Common symptoms include:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Rather than performing traditional needle biopsies, doctors are now turning to a new procedure. It is being described as a GPS system: electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy (ENB). It extends the reach of the bronchoscope to regions deep within the lung enabling doctors to locate small lung lesions for diagnostic testing and potential treatment. The system uses natural airway access, and implements proprietary software and electromagnetic technology.  ENB is a less invasive procedure.  It also provides the ability to detect lung disease and lung cancer earlier, even before symptoms are evident, enhancing treatment options for patients. (Source:

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