3D 'roadmap' allows doctors to pinpoint cancer in lung

A new procedure that allows doctors to pinpoint cancer in the lungs more accurately and could lead to earlier diagnoses and treatment of the No. 1 cancer killer here, is now available in Singapore.

Called navigational bronchoscopy, it can find and obtain suspected cancer cells in the lungs, said Dr Akash Verma, who helped bring the procedure here.

Dr Akash, adjunct assistant professor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and senior consultant in the department of respiratory and critical care medicine, said the hospital is the first to adopt the procedure. It has been used with no complications in 33 patients.

In the procedure, a 2D computed tomography scan is translated into a 3D version by software.

The 3D "road map" will show several routes the doctors can choose to insert a tube through the windpipes to the target site with the suspected cancer cells.

Once the trouble spot is reached, tissue samples can be grabbed using biopsy forceps or a triple needle brush inserted in the tube for testing.

Currently, there are several ways to obtain a lung biopsy: traditional bronchoscopy, which does not have a virtual road map; transthoracic needle aspiration (TTNA), also known as CT-guided biopsy; and wedge resection surgery.

But these procedures involve risks, like up to 40 per cent risk of puncturing the lungs. The main reason is doctors do not have a route to follow among all the organ's winding windpipes and vessels, said Dr Akash.

In the Singapore Cancer Registry's 2015 annual report, lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in males, accounting for 27.1 per cent. For females, it is the No. 2 cause, at 16.6 per cent.