December 2016

Early Detection is the Name of the Game

UMC’s First in Nevada SPOTS Program Shortens Lung Cancer Patients’ Wait Time for Results

Story and Photos by Scott Kerbs


Utilizing an advanced electromagnetic navigation system, known as the SuperDimension, to accurately and safely reach virtually any area of the lungs to collect tissue samples, Dr. Arthur Oliver Romero and his colleagues at UMC take pride in their ability to improve patient outcomes associated with one of the deadliest forms of cancer in the U.S.

Offering a combination of cutting-edge technology, valuable experience and customized treatment plans for lung cancer patients, the SPOTS (Screening for Pulmonary Oncologic Tumor Services) Program serves as a collaborative effort between UMC and the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Providing patients with access to a dedicated team comprised of pulmonologists, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons and nurse navigators, UMC and UNSOM developed the SPOTS program to save lives by promoting early detection and rapid treatment of lung cancer.

“Our team is well-equipped to detect these cancers early and try to find a cure,” said Romero, a UMC pulmonologist who serves as Co-Director of the SPOTS Program alongside Dr. Hidenobu Shigemitsu. Romero explained that the SPOTS program allows new patients to schedule their initial appointments within seven days in an effort to reduce the time to treatment. “We’re catching cancers earlier and putting our patients through appropriate treatment plans without delay. We don’t want our patients to wait weeks or months for a diagnosis that could potentially change their lives.”

Detecting lung cancer in the later stages severely limits the treatment options and chances of survival for patients. Early-stage lung cancer does not typically involve any symptoms, which underscores the importance of screenings for high-risk individuals, Romero said. Individuals considered to be at a high risk of developing lung cancer include people ages 55 to 80 who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 or more years and are either actively smoking or quit smoking within the past 15 years. Romero urges patients who meet these three criteria to meet with their primary care providers to discuss receiving a lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan of the chest. 

Patients in the UMC SPOTS program typically receive a low-dose CT scan which can detect nodules or other abnormalities in the lungs. If a nodule is detected, a highly experienced pulmonologist has the ability to utilize UMC’s SuperDimension Electromagnetic Navigation Bronchoscopy system to locate and perform biopsies for analysis by a pathologist. This step can play a key role in determining the ideal treatment options for a patient.

While physicians have several options for lung biopsies, many present unnecessary risks or lack the level of precision necessary to collect samples in deeper areas of the lung. Previously, physicians were limited to utilizing a CT-guided needle biopsy, traditional bronchoscopy or surgical excision to diagnose lung cancer. Now, UMC has the advanced equipment necessary to develop an accurate, three-dimensional model of a patient’s lung to safely locate and examine nodules in areas that were once unreachable. Using GPS technology, the SuperDimension system allows pulmonologists to guide a small catheter through the mouth and enter virtually any area of the lung. Through this catheter, the physician can utilize needles, forceps, brushes and other biopsy tools to collect samples.

Dr. Arthur Oliver Romero serves as Co-Director of SPOTS,
a lung cancer screening program established by UMC and
the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

“During these procedures, we have a pathologist on standby to analyze the samples,” Romero said. “In certain cases, they can make a diagnosis on the spot.”

While patients must be put under general anesthesia to ensure they remain completely still, this minimally invasive outpatient procedure takes about an hour, and patients typically leave with only a sore throat, which generally subsides within a day. 

The SuperDimension allows pulmonologists to leave markers to help radiation oncologists locate a specific area of the lung for radiation treatment. The system can also inject a dye into the area to assist surgeons in finding the cancer during surgery.

Although the SuperDimension serves as a revolutionary tool for cancer patients, Romero explained the system requires an experienced physician to ensure the best results.

“UMC was the first hospital in Nevada to obtain this advanced equipment,” he said. “Experience counts, and our team offers the most experience in the state.”

In addition to cutting-edge technology and a high level of experience, the SPOTS program also provides patients with access to a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists to meet their unique needs. By consolidating multiple specialties under one program, UMC is able to reduce the time to diagnosis and treatment. This group of specialists also hosts an in-depth roundtable discussion, or tumor board, focused on each patient. The purpose of which is to collaborate and develop the best possible treatment plan.

“The SPOTS program offers a highly coordinated approach to care, allowing patients to focus on their health rather than spending time navigating a disjointed system,” said program coordinator Doris Cowell.

Cowell and Romero said the SPOTS Program serves as a valuable resource for community members, especially current and former smokers.

“We urge at-risk patients to speak with their primary care providers and schedule a lung cancer screening,” Romero said. “Our team developed this program to save lives, and we look forward to further advancing the detection and treatment of lung cancer in Southern Nevada.” 

For more information about the SPOTS program, please call 702-NOSPOTS (667-7687).

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