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At UC Health, A Magical Medical Probe Locates Hard To Find Cancer For Removal

Dr. Ross Ristagno and Dr. Sandra Starnes hold the Daniel probe, which can locate lesions in a matter of seconds.
Ann Thompson
Dr. Ross Ristagno and Dr. Sandra Starnes hold the Daniel probe, which can locate lesions in a matter of seconds.

Some lung cancer nodules are very small and undetectable until they grow larger, and that can signal a poor prognosis for the patient. Even if they are discovered at an early stage, finding them during surgery can be challening. But UC Health is seeing success detecting and marking the nodules with a procedure using radioactive material and a special probe that acts as a Geiger counter.

It's called "radiotracer localization" and involves tagging the suspicious areas with radioactive material before surgery. "We make sure it's in the precise spot by CAT scan guidance and we inject a very small amount of radioactivity that goes away within a few hours," UC Chief of Interventional Radiology Dr. Ross Ristagno explains. 

After Ristagno takes the lung nodules, Dr. Sandra Starnes, chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery operates. "We have a special probe called the Daniel probe, after the doctor who helped develop this technique, that localizes the nodules so it is kind of like a Geiger counter."

The probe goes through a minimally invasive port into the lung and Starnes rubs it over the lung until she finds the area of intense activity. Past methods made it hard to locate these very small, suspicious spots.

For the patient, it helps spare healthy tissues that may have been removed with other techniques. And there is something else. "This allows us to identify potential cancers much sooner," Ristagno says.

In a recent paper, Starnes detailed a 95 percent success rate in treating 77 patients.

A procedure similar to this is used to locate breast cancer lesions.



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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.