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An Advanced Robotic Tool is Enabling Earlier Detection of Lung Cancer

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Dr. Omar Ibrahim, director of thoracic oncology and interventional pulmonology at UConn Health, with the Monarch platform for performing robotic bronchoscopy procedures.

UConn Health is among the first hospitals in the nation to use new, more precise robotic technology that enables early detection of lung cancer, including in hard-to-reach areas. 

“The time involved with diagnosis is incredibly shorter, and that ability to detect cancers at an early stage means that we’ll be able to deliver better surgical management and care for the patient,” says Dr. Omar Ibrahim, UConn Health’s director of thoracic oncology and interventional pulmonology. “This is a tremendous advancement in terms of accuracy, early detection and diagnosis, but I also think this is just the tip of the iceberg as the use of this technology continues to evolve.”

The groundbreaking technology, a robotic bronchoscopy machine known as the Monarch, features a video game-style, handheld controller that allows physicians to easily and precisely move through the lung and its bronchi. “Not only can I get to view sections of the lung that were nearly impossible to reach before, but the Monarch platform allows us to spot and diagnose much smaller lesions than was previously possible,” Ibrahim says.

Patients who have symptoms of possible lung cancer can undergo the procedure under general anesthesia at UConn Health, and can usually go home the same day. If any lesions are detected, the doctor can take a biopsy and have it analyzed by a pathologist, typically within an hour. “Being able to know what’s going on in a patient’s lungs that quickly and accurately is obviously important from a medical perspective, but it also is a lot less stressful for the patient by eliminating the wait time of finding out their diagnosis,” Ibrahim adds.

Lung cancer is by far the deadliest form of cancer for both men and women in the U.S. More than half of people with lung cancer die within a year of being diagnosed, according to the American Lung Association, but when the cancer is detected early, especially before it has had a chance to spread beyond the lungs, the five-year survival rate rises from just 5 percent to 56 percent.

One patient who underwent the procedure this year at UConn, Carol Pfeiffer, believes the early detection of cancer in her lung thanks to the new robotic technology in the hands of Ibrahim likely saved her life. 

“The speed of my diagnosis this past March was probably a lifesaver,” says Pfeiffer, 75, of Farmington, who met with Ibrahim after a chest X-ray showed a shadow in her lung. “Being told that I did in fact have cancer in one lobe of my lung certainly wasn’t good news, but I was glad that it was able to be detected before it could spread to my brain, liver or other organs or even throughout my lungs. I had surgery to remove that one lobe in April, and I’m doing amazingly well.”

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This article appeared in the June 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter here to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.