World-first lung cancer treatment at St Bartholomew's

09 May 2018

A patient at St Bartholomew’s Hospital was the first in the world to have their lung tumour treated using a unique procedure which avoids puncturing the skin, thanks in part to our funding. 

"We finally have a treatment option for patients who are unable to undergo conventional radiotherapy or surgery," says Mr Kelvin Lau, Consultant Thoracic Surgeon and Lead in Thoracic Surgery (pictured left).

Anna, 65, from London (pictured below) underwent the world-first procedure using equipment that mapped her tumour like a Sat Nav before delivering a targeted dose of radiation. 

The innovative equipment ‘Superdimension’, that we funded, replaces the current method of puncturing the lung with a needle to deliver radiation to the tumour, during which up to half of all patients will suffer a collapsed lung and others will experience internal bleeding.

This new method creates a ‘map’ of the internal surgical route allowing surgeons to trace a probe through the patient’s airways directly to the site of the tumour. It is then radiated at over 100 degrees and removed by the body as a waste product, with the lung forming a harmless scar. Sensors in the room help to track a probe to the tumour, with surgeons releasing a balloon to encompass it's exact size and deliver a precise dose of radiation to destroy it. 

Increasing treatment options

This technique will be most beneficial to patients who cannot undergo the conventional method of radiotherapy; people with poor heart or lung function, and those who cannot lie down for long periods. Until now these patients have been without any other treatment options. 

“Navigational bronchoscopy allows us to safely and painlessly access the tumour using a patient’s existing channel, their airway, from where we can create a ‘kill zone’ to fully encompass the tumour while ensuring that healthy surrounding tissue is not damaged.

So we finally have a treatment option for patients who are unable to undergo conventional radiotherapy or surgery. We can now expand our use of navigational bronchoscopy from carrying out biopsies to actually deliver radiation and cure people of cancer, even in the highest-risk patients. I am absolutely delighted” says Mr. Lau. 

Decreasing recovery time

Anna was able to go home the next day. If she had undergone more traditional surgery she would have lost a lot of lung in an operation to remove the tumour. It's position closely located to blood vessels would have also carried extreme risk. 

She said: “If I wasn’t in hospital, I wouldn’t have known I’d had an operation. I feel physically and psychologically fantastic. Mr Lau and the team are lovely; I am so grateful. I was surprised to hear I’d be the first patient, but I am pleased that because of me they can now operate on other patients and help them too.”

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