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MUSC Health Florence Medical Center is first in the State to conduct Robotic-Assisted Bronchoscopy

March 25, 2022
Dr. Hourany and other care team members performing robotic bronchoscopy.

MUSC Health Florence Medical Center is the first in the Pee Dee region to use robotic-assisted bronchoscopy to detect early lung cancer and the first in the state to offer a novel type of technology.
Using the new shape-sensing technology, an ultra-thin catheter and integrated vision probe, the robotic-assisted platform allows the robot to adjust the catheter’s movements precisely to match the CT scan of the patient’s lung airways and reach all 18 segments of the airways, says Dr. Ramzy Hourany, an MUSC Health Florence pulmonologist.

“The robot can match the CT scan precisely,” Dr. Hourany says. “That precision allows for a faster, accurate procedure to reach a lung nodule and biopsy it. That’s important because early lung cancer detection means we can treat and cure the patient,” he said.

About 70% of lung nodules are at the edge of the lung and difficult, if not impossible, to reach with traditional bronchoscopy. “We could not reach the outer limits of the lung, only the main airways,” Hourany says. “Now, we can go deeper and get to the edge of the lung. The lung and the airways are like the main highway road with secondary roads. The robot can travel those roads, reach your driveway, and knock on your door.”

Early lung cancer detection saves lives, Dr. Hourany says. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. Approximately 230,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021, and 130,000 will die.

“That is an enormous number,” Dr. Hourany said. “That’s why early detection is so important. We can reach a lung nodule as small as 0.7 centimeters and biopsy it with this technology. A pathologist can examine the tissue and determine if it is cancerous in minutes. The outpatient procedure is performed under general anesthesia, and patients can go home within hours.”

Before advances in bronchoscopy, lung cancer usually wasn’t discovered until a patient complained of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, or hemoptysis (coughing up blood). “By that time, it’s often too late to help the patient,” Dr. Hourany said. “Chemotherapy and radiation can aim at remission, but there’s a difference between cure and remission. Cure means there are no traces of cancer, and remission means the signs and symptoms of cancer are reduced.”

Dr. Hourany says MUSC Health Florence’s screening program is designed to identify patients at high risk for lung cancer. Qualified individuals must be from 50-80 years of age and be heavy smokers or former heavy smokers who have quit within the past 15 years and who have no symptoms. Program features include shared decision-making, in which the patient is informed about the program’s intentions and advantages, smoking cessation counseling, integration into a health care team, and an annual low-dose CT scan.

“We know 85-90 percent of lung cancer patients have a history of smoking. If we can identify these at-risk individuals, we can save lives,” Dr. Hourany says. “Early and regular screening, together with advanced technology, can save many lives.”

Dr. Ramzy Hourany is board-certified in pulmonology, critical care, and internal medicine at MUSC Health – Pulmonology in Florence. To make an appointment, or get more information about the lung screening program, please call MUSC Health – Pulmonology at 843-673-7529, or visit MUSC Health Florence Medical Center.