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Detecting cancer earlier than ever

A surgeon stands with a surgical robot

Skagit Regional Health has recently acquired the Ion Robotic Bronchoscopy System – the latest advancement in technology for accessing and diagnosing tumors in the lung.

According to the World Health Organization, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the world, and while smoking is the number-one cause, there are several environmental causes – leaving many more at risk than just current and former smokers. There are rarely any symptoms in early-stage lung cancer, when it is most treatable, so it can easily go unnoticed until it is more advanced.

The best way to catch any form of cancer early is through regular screening. This includes low-dose CT scanning for lung cancer. Now, there are new advancements for the accurate and timely diagnosis of lung cancer available right here at Skagit Regional Health (SRH). In fact, SRH is the third location in Washington state to use this advanced technology.

The Ion Robotic Bronchoscopy System is a minimally invasive biopsy tool that physicians are using to better reach tumors in the lungs and thus diagnose lung cancer with greater accuracy. Since lung cancer is most treatable when detected early, this improved accessibility to tumors translates to a greater ability to treat lung cancer.

“It gives us a means of determining if a lung nodule is cancer or not,” said Richard Leone, MD, PhD, FACS, thoracic surgeon at Skagit Regional Health. “Lung cancer is usually not symptomatic until it’s very far advanced and not treatable. The advantage is to be able to identify if people have lung masses before it has spread to a point that it’s not treatable. Lung cancer, when we identify it early, is very treatable and very curable – early-stage lung cancer is up to 80-90% curable.”

Traditionally, testing for lung cancer is done through a needle biopsy procedure. The reach of the needle biopsy is limited and not all areas of the lung are accessible using this method.

“Another advantage (of Ion) is we can get to almost any location in the lung safely and that’s not always the case with a needle biopsy,” said Dr. Leone. “Sometimes the tumor will be near a blood vessel or the heart and with this (new) technology, we can get there.”

A surgical team stands beside a surgical robot.

Dr. Leone went on to describe the procedure and how important the team is to the whole process. His team consists of an anesthesiologist, specially trained endoscopy technicians and endoscopy nurses, a pathologist and a cytopathology technician. Immediately upon removal of the specimen, Dr. Leone completes a rapid onsite evaluation of specimens collected with the pathologist who is present. Rapid testing upon collection affords an increased detection rate, an additional step in improving the path to diagnosis and treatment.

“This is a centerpiece of our thoracic surgery service,” said Dr. Leone. “This robotic bronchoscope allows us to steer down these tiny airways in a way that we couldn’t before.”

Many patients diagnosed with lung cancer then undergo minimally-invasive lung surgery, utilizing Skagit Regional Health’s da Vinci® Xi™ Surgical System. This represents state-of-the-art treatment, all available at SRH.

“Our team has the training, experience and expertise to perform minimally invasive biopsy, staging and treatment, all close to home,” said Dr. Leone.

Skagit Regional Health is proud to provide an integrated robotics program within a multi-disciplinary team approach to lung cancer treatment. Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Thoracic Surgery and Radiology are all within one integrated healthcare system, streamlining your healthcare and keeping it close to home.

Are you at risk for lung cancer? If you are over 50, a current or former smoker, and/or have other risk factors such as asbestos or radon exposure, history of lung disease, history of cancer or a family history of lung cancer, talk with your health care provider about lung cancer screening at Skagit Regional Health.