Advances in imaging and tumor removal are allowing doctors to treat lung cancer more effectively.
PET (positron emission tomography) scanning detects the metabolic activity of tumors rather than showing anatomical structures such as X-rays and CT scans. Cancers grow rapidly, adding blood vessels and burning glucose. PET scans identify this activity.
Because of this, PET scans allow doctors to determine malignancy and examine tumors that would have been too small to see by other methods.
Dr. James Blalock, a pulmonologist at St. Anthony Hospital, said he and others now can confidently recommend surgery for more patients.
"That’s significant because historically ... taking the tumor out has been the only way to cure lung cancer," he said.
Doctors like to remove tumors when possible and often blast them with chemotherapy or radiation afterward to kill stray cells. When tumors have spread or doctors are unsure whether they have spread, surgery is no longer an option. And what was a 3- or 4-milimeter "shadow" on an organ can be identified as cancer in a PET scan.
"We keep pushing back how small a thing we can find," he said. "More people can get surgery because we can demonstrate that what they have is 'take out-able.' I think it's going to have an impact. I think it already has."
Several Oklahoma City hospitals offer PET scans, as do some stand-alone clinics.
Most lung cancer sufferers are smokers and often have lung disease such as emphysema, he said. Even if their tumors have not spread, their lung function was too compromised for them to have a much of their lungs removed.