Yale Medicine (February 11, 2023) – Robotic bronchoscopy, also known as robotic-assisted bronchoscopy, is a recent advancement in bronchoscopy, the procedure used to biopsy lung nodules to detect the presence of lung cancer and other lung diseases. Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.
Early diagnosis and treatment often lead to better outcomes. A diagnosis of lung cancer often begins when a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan shows a nodule—an area of abnormal tissue—in the lungs. If the nodule is suspicious or grows over time, doctors will perform a biopsy to collect a tissue sample that can be tested for the presence of cancer cells. Bronchoscopy is a widely used procedure for biopsying lung nodules.
In traditional bronchoscopy, a doctor manually guides a thin tube, called a bronchoscope, into the patient’s mouth or nose, down the throat, past the vocal cords and windpipe, and into the passageways of the lungs. The bronchoscope is equipped with a light, camera, and biopsy tools that allow doctors to visually examine and biopsy nodules. But robotic bronchoscopy is different. Like traditional bronchoscopy, it’s a minimally invasive procedure that allows doctors to biopsy nodules in the lungs.
The difference is that in robotic bronchoscopy, the doctor uses a controller at a console to operate a robotic arm. The robotic arm guides a catheter—a thin, flexible, and maneuverable tube equipped with a camera, light, and shape-sensing technology—through the patient’s airways. The robotic arm’s precise movements enable doctors to accurately direct the catheter around tight turns in the airways and into the hard-to-reach areas of the lungs. This means doctors can examine and biopsy suspicious nodules—and potentially detect cancer—in parts of the lungs that may be inaccessible with traditional bronchoscopy.
What’s more, the procedure is safe—serious complications are rare—and recovery is usually quick. “As part of the comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Program, we are now able to offer patients the option of robotic bronchoscopy,” says Yale Medicine interventional pulmonologist Christopher Morton, MD. “This technology will allow us to biopsy lung nodules and masses with improved accuracy and fewer side effects, in addition to lymph node biopsies that we already do. This will get patients diagnosed and referred to the appropriate treating physician quicker.”