A new hope for patients with lung cancer - Barts Charity
a cancer cell

A new hope for patients with lung cancer

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.

  • Date: August 19, 2020

A world first

“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 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. This year, the team at St Bartholomew’s completed a world-first lung tumour treatment without puncturing the skin.  

Previously, the method for treating lung tumours was to puncture the lung with a needle and deliver radiation to the tumour. However, up to half of all patients will suffer a collapsed lung and others will experience internal bleeding during this procedure.  

With the help of our funding, teams at St Bartholomew’s are now able to avoid this, instead using the innovative ‘Superdimension’ machine. This piece of equipment creates a ‘map’ of the internal surgical route inside the body. There is no chest incision and no need to puncture the affected lung. Instead, patients simply undergo general anaesthetic and a CT scan. 

The machine allows surgeons to see on screen a route through the patient’s airways to the site of the tumour. A probe in inserted through the mouth, which is then radiated at over 100 degrees. Surgeons then release a balloon to encompass the tumour’s exact size and deliver a precise dose of radiation to destroy it. The technique leaves behind just a harmless scar.

Mr Kelvin Lau during the procedure

Increasing treatment options

This technique will be most beneficial to patients who cannot undergo the conventional method of radiotherapy. This includes 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 airway. From there, we can create a ‘kill zone’ to fully encompass the tumour while ensuring that healthy surrounding tissue is not damaged. 

We can now expand our use of navigational bronchoscopy to actually deliver radiation and cure people of cancer, even in the highest-risk patients. I am absolutely delighted” says Mr Lau.  

Anna, the first patient in the world to have the procedure

Reducing recovery time

The patient in this world-first procedure was 65-year-old Anna, who was able to go home the next day. If she had undergone more traditional surgery, it is likely she would have lost part of her lung. Her risk was also elevated as her tumour was located close to blood vessels. 

She told us: “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.” 

Support research like this