Doctors Testing New Technology, Seek People At Lung Cancer Risk

November 02, 1998

CHAPEL HILL – Physicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine are seeking people at high risk of developing lung cancer to participate in a new study aimed at saving lives by detecting tumors earlier.

The five-year study, with technical support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will involve examining 100 or more volunteers with a new kind of bronchoscope developed in Vancouver, Canada, by Dr. Stephen Lam.

"So far, we are one of only 15 centers in the United States and the only one in North Carolina to have this important new technology, which is called ‘LIFE’ for light imaging fluorescence endoscope," said Dr. M. Patricia Rivera, assistant professor of medicine. "What is new and promising about the device is that it lights up the endobronchial tree – the lung’s larger airways – differently from conventional bronchoscopy."

Doctors insert special lighted tubes known as bronchoscopes into the lungs to examine tissues lining the inside of the airways for evidence of cancer, Rivera said. The LIFE bronchoscope promises to be a major improvement over earlier technology because it causes normal cells to appear bright green. Abnormalities, on the other hand, such as tumors or pre-cancerous lesions appear varying shades of red and brown.

"We are looking for patients who have a prior history of early-stage lung cancer, head or neck cancer, smokers over age 35 and smokers who have had relatives with lung cancer," the physician said. "Our hope is that we will be able to detect cancers at a much earlier stage when we know the cure rate is better."

Volunteers will receive no pay for participating, but the study might save their lives, said Rivera, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer. Insurance should cover the cost of the evaluations since the LIFE bronchoscope already has won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Anyone interested in more information can call her at (919) 966-2531 or 966-2533.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among both U.S. men and women, she said. However, it kills more men and women than any other form of cancer including prostate and breast.

"Eighty percent of new lung cancer cases in this country are due to smoking, but there are other very important causes as well," Rivera said. "Among these are genetic susceptibility and air pollution, including exposure to other potential carcinogens such as asbestos and radon."

For the same level of smoking, women are at greater risk of lung cancer than men, she said. Reasons are unclear, but it may be because women metabolize cancer-causing substances more slowly than men do. As a result, women are steadily closing the lung cancer gap between themselves and men.

"We are looking for both men and women, but screening women is very important since many previous studies have excluded them, and lung cancer is very much a women’s health issue," Rivera said.

Other physicians in UNC-CH’s multidisciplinary thoracic oncology program will participate in the research in collaboration with NIEHS investigators.
-end-
Note: Rivera can be reached at (919) 966-2531.

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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