Patients at Barnet Hospital are able to have small lung tumours diagnosed and cells destroyed in a single hospital visit without surgery, after the innovative 30-minute outpatient lung biopsy service was awarded the £100,000 Cancer Challenge Prize earlier this year.

The time needed to arrange and undertake traditional biopsies means that many patients are not benefitting from the latest cancer therapies quickly enough because of delays to diagnosis.

Traditional lung biopsies involve hospital admissions and take around four-six hours because of subsequent monitoring for pneumothorax (or collapsed lung), and if this does occur, patients face two to three days in hospital with a large, uncomfortable chest drain.

Barnet Hospital's ambulatory lung biopsy model enables faster diagnosis of lung cancer because it uses portable chest drains, and thus an earlier start to treatment and greater chance of survival. Doctors say it could potentially free up hundreds of hospital beds and provide earlier lung cancer diagnosis by increasing tenfold the number of potentially life-saving tests carried out each year.

Since 2011 the hospitals' team has now performed close to 800 such biopsies and 99 percent of patients have been discharged within 30 to 60 minutes, including those patients who experienced lung collapse. This is thanks to a discreet, portable device called a Heimlich-valve chest drain (HVCD) which means that pneumothorax has become a minor inconvenience for patients, rather than a major upheaval, as it allows them to engage in normal daily activities while the collapsed lung is treated.

Also, coupled with the newly-introduced non-surgical radiofrequency ablation (RFA) therapy, the service means that some people who would usually be too ill for a traditional biopsy or lung surgery can now have their cancer diagnosed and treated safely, doctors note.

As well as supporting the service the Challenge funding is also being used to support a training symposium which will help lung cancer teams from all over England to introduce these techniques.

Symposium later this year
The first Pulmonary Oncology, Biopsy and Ablation Symposium (POBAS) will be held at Royal Free Hospital in November, at which clinicians will get hands-on training in using the portable chest drains "that allow us to dramatically reduce the time needed for biopsy," noted Dr Sam Hare, who helped developed the service.

Lung cancer is the world's biggest cancer killer, causing more deaths each year than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.

"It's now time for the wider NHS to give patients with lung cancer the best possible chance at beating the disease by making a firm commitment to early lung cancer diagnosis," said Dr Hare. "I firmly believe that the Barnet Hospital ambulatory lung biopsy model offers an NHS-wide scalable answer that could help achieve this".