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VAAAHS Physicians First in Michigan to Treat Veterans Suffering from Lung Cancer with New Ion Platform.

Doctors Using The New ION Platform To Perform Lung Surgery

A new, state-of-the-art robotic technology is making it much easier for doctors to detect and remove lung cancer while simultaneously reducing the risk of complications associated with lung surgery.

The new robotic bronchoscopy platform, known as ION, helps doctors diagnose small lung lesions sooner and more accurately than previous platforms. VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System is one of only four medical centers in the state of Michigan and the only facility within VA’s VISN 10 network to offer this service.

“We are able to steer to parts of the lung, that in the past, we had difficulty getting to reliably,” said Dr. Michael Mendez, acting Chief of VAAAHS’ Pulmonary Section. “Now, instead of the lung doctor using a traditional handheld scope as we have always used before, a robotic catheter is used to ‘drive’ to the target.”

Once the patient undergoes a CT scan, specialized software generates a 3D view of the airway trees in their lungs. The software then automatically creates a path through the patient lungs to a potentially cancerous nodule that has been detected. Upon further inspection, doctors can customize the path and use this plan to guide them during the surgery.

Doctors manually maneuver a robotic catheter through the lungs using a control panel and roller ball and wheel. The new procedure is safer, allowing physicians to evaluate smaller suspected cancers and in more difficult locations. 

“The chance of making a diagnosis appears to be much greater on review of our results,” Mendez said.

VAAAHS doctors in November 2022 performed the first fully robotic localization and resection in the state of Michigan using the new ION platform. The patient had a small, suspected cancer that wasn’t solid and would otherwise be difficult to locate or feel by the surgeon utilizing prior methods. A special dye was instilled in the patient’s lungs, and the surgeon was able to guide the ION robotic catheter directly to the suspected location and resect a precise portion of the lung, thereby removing the cancer.

The Veteran was released from the hospital the following day without complication.

“This case demonstrated the ability to perform a single procedure that both diagnosed the patient and treated the patient. The use of dye marking allowed the surgeon to be as precise as possible on what part of the lung to remove,” explained Mendez.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer among Veterans and is one of the deadliest cancers with just a 15% 5-year survival rate.

Since the first ION guided surgery in November, VAAAHS has conducted nearly 70 more procedures using the platform without any complications. Roughly 5% of cases prior to the use of the ION platform experienced complications.

VA’s Lung Precision Oncology Program main initiative is to increase lung cancer screening for Veterans. Screening can identify lung cancer at earlier stages and receiving treatment in early-stage lung cancer improves the patient’s overall outcome from the disease.

“Our hope is that by diagnosing early-stage cancers, Veterans can be offered treatment options that have a much better chance of curing their lung cancer,” said Mendez.

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