Lung Cancer Treatment
New Technology is a Game-Changer for Diagnosing Lung Cancer Early
For Joseph Whitlark, MD, Crozer Health’s investment in a new, state-of-the-art interventional bronchoscopy system, Auris Health’s Monarch Platform, has been a game-changer for diagnosing lung cancer at an early stage, when it is most treatable – and most survivable.
Interventional bronchoscopy allows physicians to see and biopsy parts of the lung that were previously inaccessible. The Monarch system is the most advanced interventional bronchoscopy technology currently available. It integrates the latest innovations in robotics, software, data science, and endoscopy, a procedure in which tiny cameras and tools are inserted into a patient’s body through its natural openings, allowing high-definition images of internal organs, such as the lungs, to be shown on a monitor in the operating room.
“Interventional bronchoscopy has completely changed the way we handle lung nodules and how we manage lung cancer, because it has enabled us to treat lung cancer earlier and earlier,” said Dr. Whitlark.
“If you catch lung cancer early, you can save people. If you don’t, they can die from it.”
Lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer in the U.S., has one of the lowest five-year survival rates because it is often diagnosed at later stages, when it is less likely to be curable, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). Only 24% of cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is 60%;46% of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6%.
The robotic-assisted Monarch technology allows physicians to visualize inside the patient’s lung, enabling them to spot small nodules located deep within the organ and perform a biopsy – remotely, within the lung – to determine whether the nodules are benign or cancerous. Before interventional bronchoscopy technology was available, according to Dr. Whitlark, physicians were reluctant to attempt to biopsy these tiny nodules because doing so required sticking a needle into the lung, potentially causing it to collapse or resulting in some other complication such as uncontrollable bleeding.
“We had two options: either take the patient to the OR and remove the nodule or just sit and watch it,” he said. “Both of those options are bad. Most nodules are benign. If you take out a benign nodule, you subject the patient not only to the pain of the operation but also to potential complications and even death. But when someone has lung cancer, the clock is ticking and if you wait even a month, their stage can go from being resectable without the need for any chemotherapy or radiotherapy to unresectable. It’s a critical decision. With bronchoscopy, we no longer have to make that decision.”
The advanced Monarch system “is another arrow in our quiver for catching lung cancer early,” said Dr. Whitlark, who has performed about 240 cases using the technology since Crozer Health acquired it – among the most of any physician in the U.S. The new technology is especially important given the patient population served by Crozer-Chester Medical Center. African Americans and Latinos with lung cancer are less likely to be diagnosed early and survive five years than white Americans, according to the ALA.
“With this disparity in lung cancer detection and survival, it’s essential that we’re able to provide this service to our community,” Dr. Whitlark said.