- Last Updated: August 10, 2016
BackgroundLung cancer, or pulmonary carcinoma, arises from a series of genetic mutations that cause uncontrolled cell growth, leading to the formation of tumors and interfering with healthy lung tissue function. Lung cancer is often caused by smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke but can also occur in people without any exposure to smoking. Genetics and exposure to other harmful chemicals like asbestos and radon gas are other known risk factors. Symptoms may include persistent coughing, wheezing, chest pain, headache and unexplained weight loss.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. According the American Lung Association, lung cancer causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers (colon, breast, pancreatic) combined. It is estimated that 160,000 people in the United States and over a million people worldwide die of lung cancer each year.
Current TreatmentSurgery is a common treatment option for patients with lung cancer. There are 4 different surgical procedures that can be performed.
- A wedge resection is the least aggressive surgery and involves removing the tumor and a small part of the surrounding lung tissue.
- A surgeon can also perform a segmental resection where a larger portion of the lung surrounding the tumor is removed.
- A lobectomy involves removing an entire lobe of the lung and is often the most effective form of treatment even in cases where the tumor is small.
A pneumonectomy, the most aggressive procedure involving the removal of an entire lung, is often utilized if the tumor is located in the center of the chest.
All of these procedures are invasive and carry the risk of bleeding, infection and decreased pulmonary function.
If the tumor cannot be removed by any of the procedures above, radiofrequency ablation can be used. In this procedure, a needle is inserted into the tumor and an electrical current is passed through the needle, generating heat to obliterate the tumor. This procedure is somewhat less invasive than the other surgical procedures and carries minimal side effects.
Other widely used treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted drug therapy (a promising new treatment option that uses drugs to target specific “problem” cells.)
Focused UltrasoundThe research pertaining to the treatment of lung cancer with focused ultrasound is still in the pre-clinical stages. Recent feasibility studies have shown that focused ultrasound can be an effective, minimally invasive way to destroy tumors in the lung, with the potential to target only the tumor with minimal risk of damage to the surrounding tissues. Focused ultrasound would provide a more precise alternative to radiofrequency ablation and offers potential side effects that are significantly more tolerable than those of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. More studies are needed to further establish the safety and efficacy of this treatment modality before research can progress to the clinical stages.
Wolfram F, Reichenbach JR, Lesser TG. An ex vivo human lung model for ultrasound-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy using lung flooding. Ultrasound Med Biol. 2014 Mar;40(3):496-503.
Wolfram F, Boltze C, Schubert H, Bischoff S, Lesser TG. Effect of lung flooding and high-intensity focused ultrasound on lung tumours: an experimental study in an ex vivo human cancer model and simulated in vivo tumours in pigs. Eur J Med Res. 2014 Jan 7;19:1
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