Rambam Health Care Campus recently opened a center for rapid lung cancer diagnosis, shortening the diagnostic process for patients suspected of having lung cancer to just 14 days from the patient’s first appointment until treatment begins. Until now, the average length of time for this process in Israel is three to six months, and in the US, the average is six months. This new center is the first facility of its kind in Israel.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Israel and around the world, for both men and women. Each year, approximately 2,500 new lung cancer cases are diagnosed, and about 1300 patients die from the disease annually. Early diagnosis is a significant factor with regard to life expectancy and determining the course of treatment. Most lung cancer patients are diagnosed during the disease’s late stage (stage 4), at which point the cancer has already spread. This fact explains the relatively low survival rate – about 20% within five years of the date of diagnosis.
Rapid diagnosis has significant implications for patient health, as a tumor that can be operated on as quickly as possible following the onset of initial symptoms continues to grow and spread during the months leading up to the diagnosis, potentially rendering the surgical procedure irrelevant. This precious time is critical – one in five people with lung cancer die before treatment even begins.
To change this grim reality, Rambam has established a center for the rapid diagnosis of lung cancer that is based on a multidisciplinary team creating a fast-track approach for the diagnostic testing required. Physicians from the Joseph Fishman Oncology Center involved in this crucial initiative include Dr. Alona Zer, Director of Medical Oncology, and Dr. Mirjana Wollner, Director of the Lung Tumor Service in the Oncology Division.
To start the process, the patient meets with a physician from the team to create a personalized program of targeted testing, all of which, is performed at Rambam to facilitate a prompt and precise assessment of the stage of the disease. Biopsies are immediately sent to Rambam's Pathology Center and the diagnostic component is generally completed within two weeks, at which time the medical team will determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Dr. Yaniv Dotan, the Deputy Director of Rambam’s Pulmonology Institute and responsible for invasive lung procedures, explains, “The new center will operate on an advanced model according to international standards. It includes a multidisciplinary system that operates seamlessly and includes oncologists, pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists. Our comprehensive testing is performed using the most advanced equipment in the world.”
According to Dr. Amit Katz, Director of Rambam’s Thoracic Surgery Unit, “The significance of early diagnosis is that in the early stages, you can surgically remove a cancerous tumor completely using a minimally invasive approach, followed by rapid recovery and a good anticipated quality of life with excellent chances for long-term survival.”
With regard to the center’s preparations, Professor Zohar Keidar, Director of Nuclear Medicine & PET/CT, said, “We will be able to increase the number of monthly tests conducted by 150%, allowing us to shorten wait times and treat more patients. In a pilot program for the new center, over a three-day period, we succeeded in diagnosing eight lung cancer patients.”
Dr. Katz added, "Following the success of the pilot, we are beginning to implement the next phase, in which we start to provide rapid, professional care to large numbers of patients. From our perspective, every patient who has been diagnosed with symptoms of lung cancer can contact us and come to our center for rapid diagnosis. We believe this approach will significantly improve our ability to provide effective, comprehensive treatment for the majority of our patients.”