What to know about robotic-assisted lung screening for cancer – The Hill

Story at a glance

  •  Screening for cancer can take a long time, depending on the necessary tests.

  • Biopsies may be necessary for diagnosis, like in lung cancer.

  • Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy is a new, less invasive option for taking lung biopsies.

Getting screened for cancer is a stressful experience for patients and can get stretched over months if they need multiple and different types of screenings to finally reach a diagnosis. For some cancers, biopsies, where physicians take tissue samples to see if the cells are cancerous, are necessary to be certain. In a breakthrough, doctors can perform biopsies for lung cancer more easily using a robotic-assisted technique. 

Typically, patients are screened for lung cancer using a CT scan. This involves lying down inside a machine and the scan is turned into 3D images of the lungs. The doctors look at the images to see if there are abnormalities, like masses in the lungs. If cancer is suspected after a CT scan, the patient would have to wait for an appointment with a surgeon to perform a procedure to retrieve a biopsy, or sample, from the lung tissue in question. 

Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy involves using a flexible bronchoscopy tube that is controlled by the physician. This tube is smaller than what would normally be used in a traditional bronchoscopy, according to the American Lung Association. A three-dimensional map from a CT scan helps them to navigate the lungs and find the cancerous masses or nodules. 

In May, doctors at University of California Davis Health were the first to perform a robotic-assisted bronchoscopy procedure, according to a press release. They were able to diagnosis early stage lung cancer in a patient, mark the nodules for removal and remove cancerous lung tissue, all in the same day, using this technology.  

More health clinics are starting to offer this service, which is a less invasive way to get a tissue sample. This technology could also shorten the length of time patients need to wait between getting a biopsy and diagnosis and having a procedure to remove the cancerous material. “Waiting months between a biopsy and a diagnosis can be an emotionally difficult and exhausting experience for patients,” says Chinh Phan, who is the director of the UC Davis Interventional Pulmonology Program, in the press release. “By utilizing the robotic-assisted bronchoscopy platform we can help reduce the anxiety and unnecessary waiting times that patients traditionally experience.” 

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