ST GEORGE Private Hospital has cemented itself as “an operating theatre of the future”, with heart and lung surgeon Dr Matthew Horton successfully performing minimally invasive VATS (video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery) on a lung cancer patient.

The cutting-edge keyhole procedure, which involves no spreading of the ribs, but rather a small incision under the armpit means only a few days in hospital, reduced pain and improved surgical outcomes.

During the operation, a thin, tube-like instrument with a built-in camera, feeds images of the diseased lung tissue to a screen which allows the surgeon to remove deadly tumours, with little damage to surrounding tissue.

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Patient Samantha Hanley

Samantha Hanley, 42, from Camden, likened the minimally invasive procedure to “dodging a bullet”, with lung cancer patients overall traditionally given a very poor prognosis (about 5 per cent survival after 10 years).

Ms Hanley, who has never smoked, and also endured a devastating five-year battle with infertility and miscarriage, said she was diagnosed with the Stage 1 tumour after going to another St George Private ENT specialist Dr Michael Farrell “for a tickle in the throat.”

“Although the tickle turned out to be reflux, during an examination of my throat Dr Farrell discovered a small lump on my thyroid and sent me for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound the radiologist at the hospital decided to do a biopsy on the spot, It came back slightly suspicious, (but not urgent) so a thyroid surgery was scheduled for three weeks down the track.

“To be on the safe side, and also to help him navigate through surgery, Dr Farrell also ordered a CT scan of my throat and lungs as well, which is when they found a tumour on my lung.”

Dr Horton says that whilst lung cancer overall has a typically poor prognosis, that Samantha’s early stage cancer increased her long term survival rates.

“Unfortunately there is no magic bullet for curing lung cancer. It’s very much about catching it early and most often lung cancer is picked up when it’s too late to treat successfully.

“Thankfully Samantha’s lung tumour was Grade 1 which made it very treatable and the thyroid tumour turned out to be benign. Outside of a small loss of lung function (she may get breathless running up 80 stairs instead of 100), Samantha can do everything she did before.” says Dr. Horton.

Benefits of VATS now being carried out at St George Private

  • Less pain after the operation
  • Better chance of breathing normally
  • The procedure means smaller incisions, rather than the rib-spreading open approach which requires 20-30cm chest incision to gain access to view and treat the lungs.

Lung cancer: the future 

According to Cancer Research UK, in past decades, the prognosis for lung cancer has been poor.

  • Overall, of all types of lung cancer, about 32 out of every 100 people (32%) will live for at least 1 year after they are diagnosed.
  • Around 10 out of every 100 people (10%) will live for at least 5 years.
  • About 5 out of every 100 people (5%) will live for at least 10 years.

However changing paradigms of treatment mean there is more hope on the horizon for lung cancer patients, with latest developments including:

  • A new immunomodulator drug approved by the FDA in 2015 which has seen hard-to-treat lung cancer disappear or shrink in 15 per cent of people on the trial. Other targeted treatments have also been shown to cure some patients in clinical trials and do not have the devastating concomitant effects of chemotherapy.
  • Advances in minimally invasive lung surgery
  • New screening tests of the blood which detect cancer before it shows up on a scan are also on the horizon
  • A drop in adult smoking rates from 24 per cent in 1997 to 14.7per cent in 2011 and a drop in teenage smoking rates from 24.7 to 8.6 is also expected to reduce lung cancer incidence.

“Smoking is by far the single biggest cause of lung cancer and related to 86 per cent of all lung cancers,” says Dr Horton.