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Robotic Biopsies Help Increase Lung Cancer Survival Rates

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital
Hands of Dr. John Burk, pulmonologist at Texas Health Fort Worth, as he works with new robotic-assisted technology to biopsy potential lung cancer.

Texas Health Harris Methodist in Fort Worth has become the first hospital in North Texas to use a robotic-assisted technology called Ion to biopsy potential tumors earlier than traditional diagnostic tests allow.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, but the survival rate is often low. The disease has often reached the advanced stage by the time noticeable symptoms appear, so early diagnosis is crucial.

The Ion robot uses a pre-planned navigation path to help guide an ultra-thin catheter to a lesion, a round or oval-shaped growth in the lung that appears on a CT scan.

Dr. John Burk, a pulmonologist with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, said Ion has “changed the whole concept of how and when we can diagnose lung cancer.”

Interview Highlights:

Dr. John Burk using new robotic-assisted technology to biopsy potential lung cancer.
Credit Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital
Dr. John Burk using new robotic-assisted technology to biopsy potential lung cancer.

How Doctors Usually Access Hard-To-Reach Areas

Well, there are areas that simply the only way you're going to get there is surgery to take out that part of the lung. And there are times when you don't know what it is that you may be taking out — a benign lesion or an area of inflammation or infection for which there would be treatment, not requiring surgery.

Now that we recognize smaller lesions and their significance as potential cancers, we simply monitor or follow them over time. And if they are getting bigger, then it becomes more important to try to know what it is and do something about it.

Survival Rates For Lung Cancer

If we take all lung cancers in general, the five-year survival rate is around 19%. If you take stage one cancer — small cancer, the size of a nickel — then cure rates can be 90%, a huge difference.

When Symptoms Appear

Coughing up blood, chest pain, worsening shortness of breath are typical symptoms. When those occur, you're dealing with an advanced cancer most of the time. There is treatment, but it is not likely to be curative treatment.

Who’s At High Risk For Lung Cancer

Studies have now been done that say if you've got a smoking history of 30 pack years — a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years — then you may be at increased risk. The age has been 55 to 75.

CT Scan Screening For Lung Cancer

It’s quick, inexpensive and covered by most insurance. They’ve been able to reduce the radiation exposure almost to the same as a chest X-ray. So it is safe to do every year or two for patients at high risk.


Lung Cancer: What You Need To Know

National Cancer Institute

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow him on Twitter @srbkera.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.