When Kathy Trent, 69, learned she had emphysema in 2014, she immediately quit her pack-a-day smoking habit. Thomas Rice, MD, her pulmonologist at UPMC Passavant, recommended that she begin yearly low-dose computerized tomography (CT) lung cancer screenings — a program the hospital has for high-risk patients.
In June 2019, the CT showed a nodule deep in the upper left lobe of Kathy’s lungs. Although a PET scan determined it was noncancerous, Dr. Rice continued monitoring the suspicious mass with more frequent follow-up CT scans. A May 2020 scan showed the nodule had suddenly doubled in size.
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Harnessing Advanced Technology
Kathy needed a more precise test, a needle biopsy, to determine whether the nodule was cancerous or benign. She was referred to Peter Kochupura, MD, a pulmonologist at UPMC Passavant.
Dr. Kochupura used an innovative tool, the Monarch™ robotic bronchoscopy system, to reach the nodule, inspect it, and collect tissue samples.
“Before this new technology, we couldn’t reach these areas of the lungs to reliably biopsy a nodule,” Dr. Kochupura says. “It’s remarkable.”
Unfortunately, the biopsy showed Kathy had stage I lung cancer. The multidisciplinary team developed a plan for Kathy’s treatment.
The next month, Ryan Levy, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at UPMC Passavant and thoracic surgeon with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, removed the tumor and 16 lymph nodes in a minimally invasive robotic lobectomy procedure.
“The Monarch allowed us to fast-forward her care,” Dr. Levy says. “Without it, Kathy would not have been diagnosed for another year or two. That time gap would have allowed her cancer to spread to the lymph nodes and beyond.”
Kathy was one of the first patients to benefit from the hospital’s robotic bronchoscopy platform. It is regarded as a cutting-edge tool in the battle against lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
“This technology and the wonderful doctors at UPMC Passavant saved my life,” she says. “They caught my lung cancer early before I felt any symptoms.”
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Discovering Early-Stage Cancer
More than half of all lung cancer patients die within one year of diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But when cancer is detected early — especially before it has a chance to spread beyond the lungs — the five-year survival rate rises from 5% to 56%, according to the NCI.
“When lung cancer is detected at an earlier stage, we’re able to offer our patients more treatment options — meaning patients have better outcomes,” Dr. Levy says.
UPMC Passavant is among the first hospitals in the nation and was the first in southwest Pennsylvania to use the robotic bronchoscopy system. Since May 2020, more than 100 diagnostic procedures have been performed at the hospital. Patients from across Pennsylvania have been referred to the program.
“It takes us to a whole new level of cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Levy says.
At UPMC Passavant, patients benefit from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s comprehensive lung cancer program. The program offers early screening, advanced technology, and a team approach to managing care.
“Kathy’s story is an awesome example of how our program works,” Dr. Kochupura says. “We work together as specialists to find early-stage cancer, diagnose and manage patient care, and surgically remove tumors for an early cure.”
* Monarch™ is a trademark of Auris Health, Inc.
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.