Diagnostic lung cancer robot first of its kind in North Dakota

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 3:30 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Doctors at a Fargo hospital now have the potential to detect early lung cancer in patients better than ever before and it’s all thanks to a robot.

Essentia Health is the first hospital in North Dakota to use the Monarch Platform which is controlled by what looks like an Xbox-like controller and helps physicians perform hard-to-reach biopsies in patients’ lungs.

“Up to now, the limitation was primarily if the nodule is far enough and small enough, with a regular bronchoscope, it was impossible to get there,” Dr. Karol Kremens, a Critical Care Pulmonologist at Essentia said.

Before the robot, Dr. Kremens says there were only two options to biopsy a potentially cancerous nodule on a patient’s lungs: Intervential Radiologists would go through a patient’s chest and do a biopsy of the lung with a needle, which Dr. Kremens says comes with significant risks like extreme pain, collapse of the lung and sometimes the inability to reach the nodule. The other option is an endoscopy, which brings little to no risks, but if the nodule is too far or too small, it still can’t be reached, making the procedure both unsuccessful and unnecessary.

“Before, if the nodule is small but growing, we’d have to wait until a certain size to be able to reliably biopsy it. With the robot, we can usually biopsy it sooner rather than later, so instead of waiting for another cat scan another six months down the line and find out, ‘Oh, it grew.’ We would be able to get there much sooner than that,” Dr. Kremens said.

So far, the robot has already been used on five patients and has helped detect at least one early case of cancer.

Dr. Kremens says a large percentage of people diagnosed with lung cancer do not survive, many times because it ‘usually comes too late for us to be able to effectively treat it.’ He says lung cancer screenings are recommended for smokers between the ages of 50 and 80, and says if something seems strange or needs more investigating, the robot will be used. Dr. Kremens says screenings are especially encouraged now as November is ‘Lung Cancer Awareness Month.’

“This small lung cancer is really where the benefit of survival comes before the cancer has grown and spread other places,” he said.

Dr. Kremens says when used, patients go under general anesthesia, but says the procedure is non-invasive with no pain. The Monarch Platform was cleared by the FDA in 2018.

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