Fluorescence Bronchoscopy

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Fluorescence bronchoscopy, a lung cancer diagnosis technique offered at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, the state's only comprehensive cancer center, can help detect lung cancer earlier. This procedure uses a fluorescent light during a bronchoscopy. Precancerous tissue appears in a different color than healthy tissue. 


If lung cancer is detected early, while the tumors are still small and confined to the lung, doctors are better able to treat and perhaps cure the disease.


The Fluorescence Bronchoscopy Procedure


During fluorescence bronchoscopy, the doctor will insert a thin tube, a bronchoscope, through the mouth, down the windpipe, and into the lung. Patients will receive numbing medication, an anesthetic, during the procedure so they are more comfortable.


The bronchoscope contains a light and an eyepiece, which lets the doctor look inside the main airways of the lung. In fluorescence bronchoscopy, the doctor uses fluorescent light in the bronchoscope instead of white light.


Under fluorescent light, precancerous tissue appears dark red, while healthy tissue appears green. This color difference helps physicians detect lung cancer tumors while they are still in their earliest stages.


Fluorescence Bronchoscopy Results


Fluorescence bronchoscopy is especially effective in detecting small tumors that have not yet spread beyond the lungs. Publications by surgeons at the University of Wisconsin have also shown that the technique may be useful for detecting new cancer tumors in patients who have already undergone surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer.


In these studies, patients who had prior lung cancer surgery but who were thought to be disease-free underwent fluorescence bronchoscopy after conventional bronchoscopy. In one study, six percent of these patients were found to have new cancer growths (Weigel TL et al. Postoperative fluorescence bronchoscopic surveillance in non-small cell lung cancer patients. Ann Thorac Surg. 2002 Jan;73(1):348).


In another study, 12 percent had new growths (Weigel TL et al. Fluorescence bronchoscopic surveillance after curative surgical resection for non-small-cell lung cancer. Ann Surg Oncol. 2000 Apr;7(3):171-3.). In addition, fluorescence bronchoscopy was found to be three times more sensitive than conventional bronchoscopy in identifying these growths.


Other studies are focusing on trying to determine the effectiveness of fluorescence bronchoscopy surveillance for lung cancer patients with squamous cell carcinomas.