Interventional Radiology for Lung Cancer

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Interventional radiology (IR) uses medical imaging to see inside the body. These images guide how we diagnose and treat lung cancer, using minimally invasive methods. Minimally invasive means we use tools and procedures to reach inside the body with less damage.

An interventional radiologist is a doctor who uses imaging scans to help guide procedures. At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, they use imaging tests such as:

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan
  • A positron emission tomography (PET) CT scan (PET-CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • An ultrasound

Interventional radiology can treat or control lung cancer that is in only 1 area or that has metastasized (spread). The goal of treatments can be to cure the cancer, or to relieve pain and discomfort. They use special needles to apply heat, cold, lasers, or chemical agents to a tumor to kill cancer cells.

Treatments often are done in 1 day as an outpatient procedure. Most people go home with just a small needle mark. They can start their normal activities a couple of days after their treatment.

Thermal Ablation

MSK interventional radiologists have developed treatments using a method called image-guided tumor ablation. It can be used on lung cancer that is in only 1 area or that has metastasized. This includes cancer that has spread to the bones or chest wall and is causing pain.

We offer a procedure called percutaneous ablation. You will have anesthesia to make you drowsy. We then use CT or PET-CT imaging to guide the placement of a needle into the tumor. Using the most advanced equipment available, we get exact information about the location of the needle and the tumor. The needle then uses very high heat or cold temperatures on the tumor, killing it.

Our department offers 2 types of percutaneous lung ablation:

  • Cryoablation (also called cryosurgery or cryotherapy) freezes and thaws the tumor many times. This causes the tumor cells to break apart and die. Cryoablation also works very well to treat nerve pain caused by tumors in the ribs or chest wall. Freezing the nerves can give a lot of pain relief without high doses of narcotics and pain medications.
  • Microwave ablation uses high-energy electromagnetic waves to heat the tumor to very high temperatures. It can reach higher than 140° F (60° C). Such high temperatures kill the lesion (tissue growth) while letting your body heal naturally.

Because ablation is minimally invasive, recovery is faster. There is little or no loss of lung function. Most patients can be treated in a single session. After the procedure, your care team will make sure the treatment has worked. They will follow-up with you if the cancer returns, or if there is new cancer.

New Therapies for Lung Cancer that has Spread

Lung cancer that spreads outside the chest to other area can affect organs and your overall health. For example, lung cancer often spreads to the liver. Liver metastases are cancerous tumors that have metastasized to the liver from another part of the body. MSK interventional radiologists expertly treat liver metastases with targeted therapies, including ablation and embolization.

Ablation therapy includes cryoablation and microwave ablation. Our liver metastases experts choose the best ablation procedure based on the size, location, and shape of the tumor.

Embolization stops or slows blood flow to liver tumors. During the embolization, your interventional radiologist will thread a small catheter (thin flexible tube) into an artery. Then, they will inject tiny particles in the catheter. These particles will block or reduce blood flow to the tumor, which will kill it.

Another method is to give a very high dose of radiation to the tumor’s blood supply. This will not affect normal liver tissue that gets blood from a different source. This treatment shrinks tumors and slows spreading of cancer cells.

MSK Research

MSK interventional radiologists are researchers, too. They are part of many important research studies, known as clinical trials, with other MSK experts.  They are researching whether combining treatments with immunotherapy can improve how we treat lung cancer. They also are creating better devices and imaging that can target tumors more precisely.

Our interventional radiologists work with our medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgery team members to give you the best care possible.