26 March 2021

Lung cancer patients at Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are benefitting from a state-of-the-art scanner which will help to assess how advanced their cancer has become. 

The endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) device – a long flexible tube with a camera and scanner on the end - will be used to detect whether lung cancer has spread to other, nearby tissues such as lymph glands in the chest and abdomen or to other organs such as the liver.

Knowing this allows medical and nursing staff to decide the best form of treatment to offer.

Costing £70,000, it has been funded by NHS money and replaces an older model of the device. It will benefit patients across the East of England who are referred to Royal Papworth.

People standing in blue scrubs.  
Dr Barker (right) and Dr Rintoul (left) with members of the lung cancer team.

The new scope has a small ultrasound machine and camera mounted on the end of a flexible, black tube which is passed down the oesophagus (food pipe). The ultrasound probe allows clinicians to see through the wall of the oesophagus to the surrounding tissue. 

Images are displayed on a monitor and using a flexible needle it is possible to pass the needle down the length of the scope into a lymph node or other target.

The minimally invasive procedure takes around 20 minutes on its own, although it is often performed in conjunction with an endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) - a similar type of bronchoscope which is passed down the trachea (wind pipe) and into the lungs to first examine the lung cancer itself.   

“This is not new technology, but we have had our old device for a number of years now and although it remains in good condition we are very pleased to be able to purchase a new state-of-the-art model which will help us to improve care for our lung cancer patients,” said Dr Allanah Barker, Consultant Radiologist. 

Throughout both waves of the COVID-19 pandemic the lung cancer service at Royal Papworth Hospital has remained fully open, offering normal services to local referring NHS trusts as well as providing mutual aid for certain procedures from other hospitals in the Eastern region.

A black pole with a white end and red strip.
The device is fitted with a small ultrasound machine and camera.

Dr Robert Rintoul, Lead Clinician for Lung Cancer at Royal Papworth Hospital, explained that unfortunately many people with symptoms of lung cancer did not come forward during the first wave of COVID-19, mistakenly believing that they had coronavirus. 

“Lung cancer referrals during March to June 2020 fell by up to 75%. Extensive public awareness campaigns in the latter part of 2020 seem to be working as currently referrals numbers are only 20% down from the 2019 baseline figures, but that is still too many people who are not presenting with signs and symptoms of lung cancer,” he said. 

“Signs of lung cancer can be mistaken for COVID-19. Our plea is to not forget about lung cancer and consider it should you have symptoms of coronavirus but test negative. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to improve outcomes for lung cancer, otherwise we are going to see people with cancer that’s become more advanced and much harder to treat.”

Symptoms of lung cancer include a cough lasting for three weeks or more, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, weight loss, coughing up blood and fatigue. If you have any of these, you should contact your GP without delay.