New technique hits lung cancer earlier, when it’s most treatable

Kathleen Keenan Weil, 66, has good reason to be vigilant and proactive about her health.

Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with stage 3a squamous cell carcinoma after undergoing a right thoracotomy lobectomy. The surgery, which involved an 8-inch incision from her armpit to her chest cavity, kept her in the hospital for nearly a week. After slowly recovering from surgery at home for several months, Katherine faced more months of chemotherapy.

So last winter, when she found herself out of breath easily, Katherine immediately went to her pulmonologist to request a CT scan. A scan revealed an 8mm ground-glass opacity in her left lung, a vague lesion suspected of cancer.

Her pulmonologist recommended waiting and monitoring her condition, but Catherine, who lives on the Jersey Shore, decided to do it herself. At the recommendation of a friend, she met with a thoracic surgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center for a second opinion.

“I’m who I am, and I’m not going to wait and see. After what I’ve been through and what I know, I don’t want to worry about a few more months,” said Katherine, a widow and mother of an adult son.

Dr. Hackensack recommends a therapeutic wedge resection to surgically remove a wedge-shaped portion of the lung tissue, including the lesion. Because the lesions are still small, the procedure can be used both as a biopsy and as a treatment. Kathleen’s best option is to use Ion, the new robotic assistance technology. Thoracic surgeon Geoffrey B. Pelz, MD, was the first surgeon in New Jersey to use Ion and was brought in to assist with surgery due to his expertise.

Innovative surgical system

The Ion Endoluminal System is a minimally invasive tool that allows thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists to navigate the vast airway network of the lungs to biopsy nodules in hard-to-reach areas.

Surgeons use the CT scans to build detailed 3D pictures of the lungs and use Ion’s software to plan the surgery. “It’s similar to GPS,” said Dr. Fur “I’ll mark where the target lesion is in the lung, and the computer will generate a roadmap of that area.”

A thin, easily maneuverable catheter is then inserted into the patient’s breathing tube, while real-time imaging is synchronized with the CT scan to guide the surgeon through navigation using the Ion’s controls.​​​ “It’s almost like a video game for surgeons, where you have a scroll wheel and a trackball that you can use to drive a tiny camera all the way to the edge of the lung,” said Dr.fur

In addition to performing biopsies, Ion is used to locate lesions by injecting dye into lung nodules prior to other procedures. In Katherine’s case, Dr. Pelz stained the target lesion using the Ion technique, followed by a therapeutic wedge resection using the da Vinci robotic surgical system.

“We saw that Katherine’s mass was growing slightly and becoming more dense, but it was still very small and looked more like a fuzzy plaque on the CT scan. This made it challenging to find it because it was not a firm and dense mass The ball. You can run your instrument in the lungs and you won’t know where the lump is,” said Dr. Fur “But with ions, we know exactly where to go based on the dye.”

This time, Katherine’s cancer — a stage 1 adenocarcinoma in her left lung — was caught early and removed. The ions made it possible to perform surgery at this early stage, eliminating the risk of her cancer spreading, while waiting for it to grow large enough to be removed by traditional methods.

Another advantage of Ion is that it allows surgeons to perform lung-sparing surgery, which was especially helpful for Katherine, who had lost lung tissue during her first cancer surgery.

“Cakewalk” surgery

Catherine spent the night in the hospital recovering from surgery and returned home quickly returning to her normal, positive self. Compared to her experience 20 years ago, she was impressed with the ease of recovery. “It was a ‘park walk’ surgery,” she said. “Last time, it was a long, drawn-out affair. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was on prescription pain medication for three months because of the pain from opening my chest and all the stitches.”

Faster, easier recovery times are other benefits of using Ion — and the faster recovery time means patients can begin any needed treatment sooner than with traditional open surgery. Katherine is monitored by Harry Harper, MD, and has received 30 radiation treatments since the surgery.

“This is an incredible technology that greatly speeds recovery and improves patient care,” said Dr. Fur “For Katherine, that means we can locate and excise the lesion, get her in and out of the hospital in a day so she can get back to life.”

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Materials provided through HealthU are for general information only and should not replace your doctor’s advice. Always consult your doctor for personal care.

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