Around 20 percent of cancer deaths are due to lung cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. If caught early, though, lung cancer does not have to be fatal. “Stage one lung cancer can have a survival rate of 85 percent at five years, but the key is to catch it early. Lung cancer usually presents as a nodule in its early stages, seen either on a lung cancer screening computed tomography (CT) scan, or incidentally on X-rays done of the chest. Many times, these lung nodules are small and deep into the lung, so the issue we need to address is how to be able to get to these and get a reliable diagnosis,” Dr. Andy Waller, pulmonologist with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonology said.
Waller and his colleague Dr. Robert Jones use the Ion robotic navigation bronchoscopy system for biopsies, which are critical in diagnosing lung cancer early, when it’s in a more-treatable stage. This high-tech system essentially creates a 3D map of the patient’s lungs. The software then generates the safest and most-efficient route through the lung to send the catheter through, allowing much greater accuracy than traditional methods. “With conventional bronchoscopy, we can only see one-third into the lung. The difference with this is that it allows us to visualize as we go into the lung. The Ion software provides a roadmap via a live feed so we can see where we’re going. This system offers us the most-stable and reliable technique,” Waller said.
The Ion system features an ultra-thin, ultra-maneuverable catheter which allows navigation further into the lung - reaching all 18 segments of the lung - with the stability and precision needed for biopsy. The small, flexible catheter allows the pulmonologist to move 180 degrees in all directions. Once the location of the nodule is located, the catheter locks into place, allowing the physician to then insert biopsy tools and gather the samples needed.
The procedure is done under general anesthesia, and the most common aftereffect is a sore throat. “The complication rate for this form of bronchoscopy is low, particularly compared to other ways we could biopsy, such as the CT-guided needle biopsy. The Ion robotic navigation bronchoscopy system offers us potentially 85 percent accuracy for a reliable diagnosis,” Waller explained. Currently, this system is only used for biopsies, although there is the possibility of using platforms such as the robotic-assisted bronchoscopy for treatment of lung cancer in the future.
A pathologist is in the room to help guide how much tissue is removed during biopsy, so pulmonologists know in real-time if they have enough diagnostic material. “I can’t stress this enough – the most important thing is early detection and diagnosis. Not all nodules are cancer, and many might simply represent scar tissue or areas of inflammation. We certainly don’t want to treat or remove nodules that are not cancerous, so this helps us try to get that diagnosis faster. A lot of people, when they have a nodule, it’s worrisome. With this system, we can provide reassurance. In some cases, that comes with diagnosis and curative treatment, but some of them may turn out not to be of concern,” Waller added.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonology, call 865-980-5100.