MARLTON — Hard-to-reach tumors in the lung aren't as hard to reach anymore for doctors at Virtua Marlton Hospital.

By using a controller similar to one you'd use to play Xbox, Virtua doctors are taking advantage of robotic navigation technology that enables them to access and biopsy very small growths in the lungs and reduces the need for more invasive procedures on patients.

"The goal is catch the nodules in the early stage, so if they are surgical candidates we can get these nodules taken out," said Dr. Syed Riaz, interventional pulmonologist.

Syed said the technology will help doctors reach up to 90% of suspicious lung nodules. Traditional, non-robotic bronchoscopy procedures have a diagnostic reach of about 60% to 65%.

Virtua demonstrated the new technology at its hospital in Marlton on Thursday. Set up a few feet away from the patient, doctors move the system's robotic arms with a video-game-like controller. A high-definition, 3D touch-screen monitor shows professionals the inside of the lung's airways as the bronchoscope travels through it.

Monarch robotic controller used by Virtua doctors to access and biopsy lung nodules (Photo provided by Virtua)

Symptoms of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, often don't appear until the disease is advanced and harder to treat.

Virtua is the second program in New Jersey to introduce the Monarch platform to diagnose lung cancer. AtlantiCare was the first to do so in late 2020.

Virtua pulmonologists performed their first robotic-assisted bronchoscopy on a patient on June 15. The health system encourages current and former smokers to undergo a low-dose CT scan to look for suspicious nodules.

"This is just another step in increasing the diagnostic yield," Riaz said. "I think technology will keep getting better, but right now this is the best technique we have available."

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