The Future of Medicine: UPMC Pinnacle uses shape-sensing robot for early lung cancer detection

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MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — UPMC Pinnacle West Shore is the first hospital in the Midstate to get robotics technology that will collect lung cancer biopsy samples more efficiently, provide a less invasive experience — and the big one — detect the disease earlier.

“In the last five years, there’s been more innovation in the last 50 years of lung cancer. So, it’s really kinda exploding,” said Dr. Troy Moritz, chief of thoracic surgery at UPMC Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute.

Lung cancer detection is going through a renaissance period.

“When everybody used to smoke, we just blamed those cancers smoking, and now we see people that don’t smoke that have cancer, and now it’s getting more attention,” Dr. Moritz said.

So first came research, then came funding, and then came a shape-sensing robot that can get to the problem area through the body’s natural openings.

“Once you kind of get on target, then you can stay on target and do your biopsies a lot more effectively [than] in the past,” Dr. Moritz said.

The past has also posed challenges for sampling smaller spots on lungs.

“If you have to wait, sometimes these things spread by the time you can biopsy them, and then the survivial rate for stage 2 is less than stage one — obviously,” Dr. Moritz said.

The robot solves that problem. Not only can it reach those areas, it can also get more sample once it’s there. This helps determine the cancer’s stage and, as a result, the most effective type of chemo needed.

“So, we’re able to take all that information from that one setting and really move the patient forward down the pathway to getting them a treatment option,” Dr. Moritz said.

If the pathway to survival is paved with early detection, this robot just might be the architect lung cancer patients need.

“It’s not just a small leap in the technology. It’s a pretty big leap into the future for us,” Dr. Moritz said.

So, just how important is early detection? UPMC officials say if diagnosed early, the average five-year survival rate is 92%.

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