Dr. Jason McClune demonstrates how the robotic assisted bronchoscope will help physicians at Memorial fight lung cancer.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Memorial Health is using the latest technologies to fight this dreaded disease.

Lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates there will be nearly 229,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in 2020. Another sobering fact is lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for both men and women. Because it often has no symptoms early on, it’s usually found at an advanced stage and most patients don’t survive.

There is some good news – the ACS also reports the number of lung cancer deaths is declining, in part due to advances in early detection and treatment. At Memorial Health, one way we live out our mission and commitment to the care and improvement of human life is by making leading-edge technology available to our patients. We now have an innovative new procedure that holds promise in fighting lung cancer.

In June, Memorial Health became the first healthcare system in Georgia and among the first hospitals in the U.S. to offer robotic-assisted bronchoscopy for patients with lung nodules. This new technology allows for earlier detection of lung cancer with greater accuracy.

This minimally invasive procedure is safer than CT-guided lung biopsy and, unlike a traditional bronchoscopy, the robotic platform gives the physician the ability to reach the entire lung safely and obtain tissue samples of small and hard-to-reach nodules in the periphery of the lung.

The physician navigates the scope through the small tubes in the patient’s lungs using a hand remote much like a gaming system. Once the scope reaches the desired location, the physician can perform biopsies with direct visualization, which increases accuracy and reduces risk of complications.

We are excited about this amazing technology because it allows us to diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage. Since launching this program, our thoracic oncology team has used the robot to detect early stage cancers, which led to earlier treatment and, we hope, positive outcomes.

The first step in early detection of lung cancer is usually a screening with a low-dose CT scan. If you or someone you love is a long-time smoker, this is certainly something to consider. Candidates for getting this screening once a year are those who are 55 to 80 years old, have a 30-pack-year smoking history (equivalent of one pack per day for 30 years), and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. This screening is covered by Medicare and many insurance plans.

It is our hope that, by using these screening and diagnosing tools, we can reduce the number of lung cancer deaths in our region.

Dr. Jason McClune is an interventional pulmonologist with Memorial Health in Savannah.