Physicians at Sentara Heart Hospital First in Region to Perform Innovative New Procedure Using Heat to Destroy Lung Tumors
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Physicians at Sentara Heart Hospital First in Region to Perform Innovative New Procedure Using Heat to Destroy Lung Tumors 

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Norfolk, VA- February 22, 2007 – Surgeons and interventional radiologists at Sentara Heart Hospital® recently performed the region’s first radiofrequency ablation—a procedure that uses waves of heat energy to destroy cancerous tissue. The procedure is a promising alternative to the surgical removal of lung and esophageal tumors.

Radiologists use computed tomography (CT) scanning to guide the surgeon’s placement of a small needle electrode inserted through the skin and directly into the tumor tissue. An alternating electrical current in the frequency of radio waves is passed through the electrode causing the tissues around the electrode to heat up, killing nearby cancer cells, but sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

Radiofrequency ablation causes little patient discomfort, and patients are usually discharged from the hospital within a day.

“This is not meant to be front line, primary therapy because its success rate is less than surgical removal of cancerous growth,” said Dr. Joseph Newton, cardiothoracic surgeon. “But it offers a good option for patients who are not candidates for surgery—patients who are medically too frail for surgery,” Newton said.

For patients who are at high risk for complications from a traditional surgical procedure, such as a lobectomy, radiofrequency ablation offers an alternative. It also may be used for patients with multiple tumors.

This reduces the tumor burden so that the remaining tumor cells may be eliminated by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It takes much less time for patients to recover from radiofrequency ablation than from traditional surgery.

The first patient to undergo the RFA procedure was a woman in her 70s who had metastases from esophageal cancer in both of her lungs. She underwent RFA and was able to return home the day after the procedure. In her follow up scan, radiologists determined that the tumors appeared less viable.

“Her age made her a higher anesthesia risk, and mentally she was frail so she wasn’t a candidate for surgery. With a thorocotomy, she would have been here a week,” said Dr. Newton. “But this new, minimally invasive procedure enabled her to return home the day after the procedure.”

“The procedure is done completely using a CT scan. We can see precisely where the tumor is, guide the probe to the tumor and kill the tumor, all without surgery,” said Dr. Harlan Vingan, interventional radiologist.

Standard treatments such as surgery, or surgery combined with chemotherapy, are more effective than RFA. However, RFA offers an alternative for patients unable to undergo traditional treatment. It is the latest medical breakthrough in cancer treatment. The procedure is one piece of a comprehensive thoracic surgery program offered at Sentara Heart Hospital®.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, cervix and prostate cancer combined.

The thoracic surgery team at Sentara Heart Hospital hopes to change that statistic.

“We have a multidisciplinary team that includes oncologists, pulmonologists, nurses, nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists, radiologists and surgeons. Our goal is to provide an individual treatment plan and begin treatment within 10 days of a patient’s referral to us,” Newton said.

State-of-the-art procedures such as RFA and robotic lobectomies are just one part of the services performed at Sentara Heart Hospital’s thoracic surgery program. There is extensive pre- and post-operative education of patients with established clinical protocols. Surgeons at Sentara Heart Hospital expect to use all types of innovative minimally invasive and traditional procedures for esophageal work, lung cancer and other types of complex thoracic surgeries that can’t be done at community hospitals.

Sentara’s Heart Hospital is also only one of two programs in the state that tracks its quality thoracic outcomes against data from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. “We know what our results are against the national standard,” Newton said. “For the past two years we have a zero mortality for lobectomy compared to a national two percent mortality rate.” Most patients treated surgically for lung cancer have a lobectomy (which is removal of one of the lung’s five lobes.)

To learn more about the thoracic surgery program at Sentara Heart Hospital, call 1-800-SENTARA.

Sentara Healthcare is a premier not-for-profit health care provider in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.


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