FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — A new surgical robot at Reston Hospital Center is helping doctors find and diagnose lung cancer in patients through minimally invasive procedures. It’s surgery without any external incisions.
The Monarch technology from parent company Johnson & Johnson is a flexible endoscopy that allows surgeons to use precise techniques and get to hard-to-reach parts of the lung. The scope is placed through the mouth, down the trachea and into the bronchi. The patient is under general anesthesia and, unlike many open surgeries, recovery time is quick.
The robot costs around $500,000, but there is a goal you can’t put a price tag on.
“To save lives and to extend lives,” Dr. Bryan Steinberg told 7News Health and Wellness Reporter Victoria Sanchez.
The thoracic surgeon compares the robot to a car with all the upgrades, and it can turn on a dime. Actually, something even smaller than that.
“We’re talking about, within the lung, looking for things the size of a pea or a chickpea,” Dr. Steinberg said, explaining the lung nodules.
The robotic vehicle assists with bronchoscopies. Displayed on one screen is a roadmap for surgeons.
“It’s like GPS,” Lisa Young, Reston Hospital Center clinical team expert.
The virtual map is made up of the patient’s CT scan, sensors and cameras. It gives the doctor the ability to pinpoint small, abnormal growths.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, lung nodules are benign. But it is the 5% of the time we are concerned about,” said nurse Alison Griffith, lung nodule navigator.
The only way to find out if its cancer is to take a sample and test it.
“Now this makes it a little easier for patients. They don’t have to undergo a big surgery and find out it’s benign,” said Young.
The Monarch surgery takes two to four hours.
“Sticking with your car analogy, you have the car, which is the robot. Tell me a little bit about the steering wheel that you’re using?” Sanchez asked Dr. Steinberg.
“OK, well, it’s actually kind of amazing,” he said with a smile. “We’re actually using what’s equivalent to a game controller.”
The controller looks a lot like an XBox video game controller. The air passages of the lungs are used as the highway for the flexible scope to traverse. The farther you go, the tighter the turns and narrower the roads.
Once at the destination, a tiny needle punctures the nodule and brings back enough cells to test.
The Monarch is being used for diagnostic procedures, but Dr. Steinberg believes more is on the horizon.
“Within five years, this is going to radically change the ability to treat cancers and diagnose them at the earliest moment, before it becomes something that is out of control,” he said.