Ultra-maneuverable Device Allows Access to Deep Part of the Lungs

Doctor looking at results of a lung biopsyJune 26, 2023

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, and the National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 238,340 new cases of lung cancer in the United States in 2023, of which more than half (127,070) will lead to death. That’s roughly 12% of all new cancer cases and 21% of all cancer deaths.

Early detection remains one of the most effective ways to improve lung cancer outcomes. A major factor to the low survival rate is that patients are often diagnosed with a nonlocalized disease, meaning the cancer is detected after it has spread beyond the initial tumor.

To help catch the disease in its earliest stages, Texoma Medical Center now performs lung biopsies with the Intuitive ION robotic-assisted bronchoscopy platform. Pulmonologist Sanober Kable, MD, explains this new, minimally invasive device and what sets it apart from traditional lung biopsy methods.

CT-guided Biopsy

“Before ION, the main way to screen for lung cancer was a CT-guided biopsy. The scan locates the abnormality, and then we put a needle through the chest to collect a sample to send for analysis,” Dr. Kable explains. “There is a 50% chance of lung collapse from the needle puncturing it, which could require a chest tube be inserted until the lung refills. For this reason, the procedure can only be used in cases near the chest wall.”

ION uses an ultra-thin, ultra-maneuverable catheter which is inserted into the airway through the mouth, requiring no incision. Unlike the CT-guided biopsy, which approximates the location of the lesion, ION features 3D imaging that accurately maps the constantly changing shape of the lung and pinpoints the lesion’s location.

Traditional Bronchoscopy

This screening option, like ION, involves the insertion of a scope into the airway to locate lesions in the lung. However, unlike ION’s highly maneuverable appendage, traditional bronchoscopy uses a larger, more rigid scope that cannot easily reach the upper nodes (the outer-third part of the lung) where cancerous cells often originate.

“The airway starts as a big trunk and branches into increasingly smaller sections as it gets deeper into the lungs,” Dr. Kable says. “Because ION is so flexible, it can get to spots as small as 5 millimeters wide, where it can detect smaller amounts of cancerous cells that may still be at stage one.”

Early Detection Saves Lives

By accessing previously unreachable parts of the lungs, ION allows pulmonologists to find cancerous cells sooner and greatly improve patient outcomes. “More than half of lung cancer cases are found at stage four, which has a 9% survival rate. Stage one cases have a 92% survival rate,” Dr. Kable explains.  

“Detected at an early stage, the cancer can be treated with lobectomy, which is essentially a cure,” she says. “Remission through radiation is possible at later stages, but it cannot cure the condition.”

Dr. Kable urges high-risk patients, smokers or ex-smokers over 50 years old, to schedule routine, low-dose CT screenings to catch lung cancer at its earliest, curable stages so they can live longer with a better quality of life.