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Advancing Lung Cancer Diagnosis With Robotics

Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital Launches Robotic-Assisted Bronchoscopy Program

Robotic-Assisted Bronchoscopy 3

PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. - If a spot on the lung is detected via imaging, patients want to know as quickly as possible if it is serious and what the next steps are. Many patients currently require multiple biopsies prior to a lung cancer diagnosis, which can add more time and anxiety to a patient’s journey to care. Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital is now offering robotic-assisted bronchoscopy to enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of lung cancer.

With the robotic tools, Interventional Pulmonologist Sara Greenhill, MD, can quickly and safely access and biopsy difficult-to-reach nodules in the peripheral lung, where more than 70% of cancer lung nodules are located. Previously, these areas of the lung would only be accessible via more invasive methods.

“The ultrathin tools and ability to maneuver the catheter around tight turns allows us to aim at small targets deep in the lung with precision and stability,” said Dr. Greenhill. “We can determine if the nodule is cancerous and obtain staging information during the same procedure to accelerate time to treatment.”

Robotic-Assisted Bronchoscopy 4Prior to the procedure, Dr. Greenhill uses 3D imaging and specialized software to create a path to the area of concern in the lung. During the bronchoscopy, a controller is used to navigate the 3.5 mm catheter to the target. The catheter can articulate 180 degrees in any direction. In addition to computer-guided navigation, a camera probe provides real-time vision.

Once the nodule is reached, the catheter is locked, and sensors hold it in place as the lungs fill and deflate with each breath. Tissue samples are removed for biopsy. The tools also allow the interventional pulmonologist to mark the nodule with a fluorescent dye to help surgeons remove as little lung tissue as possible during minimally invasive robotic surgery.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, in part because it has no symptoms in its early stages. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (CT) in adults between 50 and 80 years old who have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

CT scanning has been proven to save lives by detecting cancer earlier when it is more treatable and survivable. However, CT screening also picks up incidental nodules that are of unclear significance. These findings can cause anxiety in many patients.

“Our goal is to diagnose cancer at an earlier stage when it can be more successfully treated,” said Dr. Greenhill. “With the new robotic tools, we can give our patients answers sooner and begin a treatment plan."

Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy is also available at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill.

For more information about pulmonology and thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine visit Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute.