Emerging technologies to aid timely lung cancer detection

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As November is observed as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Dr Hari Kishan Gonuguntla, Consultant Interventional Pulmonologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad states that in India where lung cancer is the fourth leading cause of deaths, it is imperative to ensure that advanced technological treatments are accessible by patients across the country

With winter approaching in North India, researchers and experts are wary about the increase in cases of patients suffering from both COVID-19 and influenza. As per a study, infections caused by respiratory viruses including influenza and coronavirus, swell with the dip in mercury and drop in summer.

Winter season, known as the season of flu, may pose a peculiar challenge during the pandemic. We are already aware that the respiratory rate increases with the drop in temperature which makes many people breathe through their mouths. When cold and dry air enters the lungs, it causes inflammation of the airways. Therefore, people with asthma are advised to keep an inhaler nearby during winters.

The link between COVID-19, cold weather and lungs, brings our attention towards the increasing number of lung cancer cases in India that accounts for almost eight percent of all cancers.

As per GLOBACON report, lung cancer caused 1.8 million deaths and is the leading cause of cancer related fatalities worldwide. Out of these, 63,475 deaths alone were recorded from India. Lung cancer is an incurable disease; however, timely clinical intervention and diagnosis with advanced technologies can help a person live a longer life.

Understanding lung cancer and its symptoms

Lung cancer starts developing in the cells lining the bronchi, and in other parts of the lungs like alveoli or bronchioles. When cells in the lungs grow out of control, lung cancer occurs. The cancer starts in the lungs and may spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body such as the brain if not diagnosed in the early stage. At times, cancer from other organs also spread may also spread to the lungs.

It is crucial to be vigilant of symptoms such as bleeding in the airway leading to coughing up blood, shortness of breath, accumulation of fluid around the lungs, headaches, pain, and nausea. On noticing these, one must contact a doctor at the earliest and undergo the best treatment option available.

The promise of technology to those at risk

For years, diagnostic tests such as sputum cytology, biopsy and imaging tests have been used to detect lung cancer. In the last three decades, medical technologies have evolved remarkably and today we have several invasive and non-invasive ways to screen lung cancer. Now, we have minimally invasive methods such as endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) that help in early detection of lung cancer with fewer complications and reduced hospital stays.

Tissue of fluid samples is obtained from the lungs and surrounding lymph nodes during EBUS. The procedure provides a real-time image of the surface of the lungs, airways, lymph nodes and blood vessels. The images enable the doctor to access smaller lymph nodes and reach areas that are difficult to be viewed. It is carried under general anaesthesia using a bronchoscope that is inserted through the mouth. A fine needle and an ultrasound processor are fitted in an endoscope that is guided through the patient’s trachea. Fine needle biopsy (FNB) is used during the procedure that helps to procure larger tissue specimens for analysis. The needle is designed in such a way that it maximises tissue capture and minimise fragmentation which may help in improved diagnosis.

Credit it to such technologies, we have hope for lung cancer patients, but the key is early detection. Patients should not ignore the initial symptoms and seeking timely intervention is critical. Detecting lung cancer in its early stage can prevent the cancer from spreading to other organs of the body, increasing the chances of the person to live longer life. Moreover, in India where lung cancer is the fourth leading cause of deaths, it is imperative to ensure that the advanced technological treatments are accessible by patients across the country.

endobronchial ultrasoundLung Cancer Awareness Month
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