Virtua Brings Advanced Lung-Cancer Diagnosis Closer to Home

August 1, 2023 - People who smoke heavily – and even those who’ve quit – are at greater risk for lung cancer. Today though, an advanced, robotic-assisted system can find and more accurately diagnose small, hard-to-reach lung cancers – enabling earlier treatment and saving lives.

Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system, now offers this technology at its two Burlington County Hospitals: Virtua Mount Holly (formerly Virtua Memorial) and Virtua Marlton.

Called robotic-assisted bronchoscopy, the minimally invasive technique enables doctors to reach 80% to 90% of suspicious lung nodules – versus reaching just 60% with traditional, non-robotic bronchoscopy. 

The technology is also better at accurately diagnosing cancer, yielding a correct diagnosis in 90% of malignant tumors, according to Virtua’s Mark Weir, MD, an interventional pulmonologist who performs the procedure.

“By comparison, non-robotic bronchoscopies identify about 70% of lung cancers,” he explained. “It’s helping us find more lung cancers and successfully treat more people.” 

Virtua, a not-for-profit organization, launched the high-tech system at Virtua Marlton Hospital two years ago. Its benefits prompted the expansion to Virtua Mount Holly Hospital this year. As a result, more South Jersey residents can receive this enhanced care. 

“Having two locations helps increase people’s access and expedites patient scheduling,” said Virtua’s Matthew Puc, MD, a thoracic surgeon who treats patients with lung cancer and other conditions. 

The number of bronchoscopies performed at Virtua Mount Holly has already increased, thanks to the new robotic system. 

“We now provide a service that people would previously have travelled to Virtua Marlton or farther away to receive,” said Dr. Weir. “Area residents can receive minimally invasive biopsies and cancer staging closer to home, their families and support systems.” (Staging is the process of determining the amount and location of cancer in the body.)

Greater Precision, Fewer Biopsies
Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy enables a physician to send a thin tube, called a bronchoscope, through the mouth and into the lungs’ airways. Using a highly precise, videogame-style controller, the doctor guides tiny tools through the bronchoscope, and maneuvers them to biopsy (take samples from) the suspected cancer. 

The robotic equipment enables a more exact, thorough sampling of suspicious tissue, yielding a more accurate result. Providing the most accurate biopsies is important, because it spares patients from needing a repeat biopsy or a more invasive type of biopsy, in which a needle goes through the chest wall. 

With the robotic bronchoscopy system, “I’m doing everything I can to provide the highest quality of biopsy for the patient,” said Dr. Weir. “Patients get it all done in one procedure, rather than needing another biopsy, or a needle biopsy that exposes them to other risks.”

Patients typically resume their normal activities immediately after this outpatient procedure, and feel little to no discomfort.

Importance of Routine Lung Screenings
Lung cancer usually has no symptoms in its earliest, most treatable stages. Therefore, doctors advise people who are or were heavy smokers to have a simple lung screening scan, which can catch early signs of cancer.

These low-dose CT scans are recommended for former and current heavy smokers ages 50 to 80, regardless of how many years ago they smoked. Many Virtua facilities offer these screenings.

If the scan shows a suspicious area, the patient can schedule a robotic-assisted bronchoscopy at Virtua Mount Holly or Marlton to obtain a highly accurate diagnosis.

For more information, visit Virtua’s Comprehensive Lung Program. To learn more about lung-cancer screening and speak to a lung nurse navigator, call 856-247-7393.