Nijmegen’s Radboud university medical centre is the first hospital in Europe to research the effectiveness of robot-assisted bronchoscopy for patients with early-stage lung cancer.
The procedure will allow doctors to more safely and precisely reach small abnormalities located deep inside the lungs, hopefully leading to earlier detection of the often-fatal disease.
Erik van der Heijden, professor of interventional pulmonology, says the new study will investigate the effectiveness of robot-assisted bronchoscopy in combination with the advanced imaging technology the hospital already uses.
“We make a personal ‘roadmap’ for each patient of the airway branches that lead to the abnormality in the lung,” he said.
“The doctor controls this ‘robotic bronchoscope’. With the help of sensitive technology, the flexibility and controllability of this bronchoscope, we can now reach the finest airway branches, deep in the lung. We expect this method to be even better and more precise than the current method, but we want to investigate that.”
Twelve patients have already been examined with the new technology, but a total of 130 patients will also receive a robot-assisted bronchoscopy before its benefits are assessed. Researchers are looking into the safety and added value of the procedure for patients, the Dutch healthcare system and also at its cost effectiveness.
More than 14,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer annually in the Netherlands and early detection is crucial for successful treatment. However, as the resulting tumours usually don’t cause complaints at first and are discovered mostly by accident, such as when a patient has a CT-scan for another reason and the lungs come into view.
The EU advises member states to start screening people with an increased risk of lung cancer, and it’s expected the Netherlands will do that soon. As the number of scans increases, so do the number of new patients. But the hope is that they will be discovered in the early stages of lung cancer and have more successful treatment options.
“This will greatly increase the demand for a reliable and safe form of diagnostics,” says the teaching hospital. Using the robot assisted bronchoscopies, doctors can also remove pieces of the lung more precisely.
From January 1, 2024, navigation bronchoscopy will be covered in the basic package offered by Dutch health insurers.