Ion robot targets lung cancer, gives patients hope for survival

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in men and women nationally. The five-year survival rate is only about 20%. That’s because, by the time you know you have it, the cancer has progressed.

But if doctors can diagnose it earlier, the cure rate is over 90%.

And a new way to spot it and remove lung cancer is giving patients hope of surviving it.

Rodney Poche is on a mission to collect enough special coins to give to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and that adds up to quite a lot of coins!

“Six kids, 30 grandkids, eight great grandkids, and three on the way,” Poche said.

Poche feels blessed for each day he has with his family. Doctors found cancer in his kidney — they removed that two years ago, then it spread to his lung.

“Lung cancers are hard to detect because they usually start at just a few millimeters and you can’t see that on a chest X-ray,” said Dr. Brian Mitzman, Robotic Thoracic Surgeon at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute

Mitzman is one of the first to use an ion robotic assisted navigation bronchoscopy to help pinpoint exactly where the cancer is.

“It’s a tiny camera that will go down the airway of the patient and go inside the patient’s lung. It takes the patient’s CT scan and builds us this 3D augmented GPS pathway and tells us exactly where to go so we could get out to where their tiny little two-millimeter nodule is. We inject a little dye into it so that when we go to do the lung resection, it glows for us,” Mitzman explained.

Poche had a tiny cancer nodule in the upper part of his right lung — a spot Mitzman said they would never be able to see on a CT scan.

“Without this technology, we would end up having to take out a fairly large piece of his lung to make sure we got all of the cancer,” Mitzman said.

Instead, he removed just a small piece — about the size of quarter. Poche recovered in days instead of weeks, and he is now cancer-free, just in time for three new family members to arrive this spring.

Many other hospitals are using this technology in biopsies, but the Huntsman Cancer Institute is one of the first in the country to use this technology to mark tumors during surgery.