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Health Beat: GPS tracks down lung cancer

Published On: Dec 18 2013 03:58:41 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 18 2013 05:59:39 PM EST

Each year, 200,000 Americans are told they have lung cancer and 160,000 die.


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. 

Arranging a homemade bouquet is one way Natalie Barnhill celebrates today’s special milestone.


"It was my last chemo!" said Barnhill, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. When doctors spotted the growth on a scan, they told her about a new biopsy method.

"It's basically like a GPS system," said Dr. Samir Makani, director, interventional pulmonology and bronchoscopy and 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 determined to beat the same cancer that killed her mother and her aunt. She's now cancer free and enjoying all the beauty around her.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Samir Makani