Mesa veteran gets early lung cancer diagnosis thanks to new technology

New technology allows an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer and treatment.
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 4:46 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A Mesa Army veteran is part of a big advancement in lung cancer detection in the Valley. The new technology, known as Ion, allows an earlier diagnosis of lung cancer and treatment, and it’s now being used at Phoenix’s Norton Thoracic Institute, part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

As a U.S. Army veteran, Marc Shifler knows what is needed to keep a machine going. “I was a maintenance mechanic,” he explained. “My job was to find trouble before a disaster to keep the vehicles running, so I got to keep me running too.”

It’s that same job that also put him at high risk for lung cancer. “I’ve been in the automotive business,” Shifler said. “You get a lot of exhaust fumes, chemicals ... I used to smoke and it’s always been in the back of my mind I should get my lungs checked out.”

While it’s not the traditional bronchoscopy, a robot is making Dr. Abid Khokar’s job easier and more accurate. “It’s telling me this is the path in the airway I’m going to have to go through to get to this region,” he said while explaining how it works. “Making these turns in this small of an airway [helps]; these airways are measuring only four millimeters in size.”

The experimental technology collects biopsy samples in a way that’s minimally invasive. “With this technology, it allows us to get really far out, where we’re able to steer and make small direction changes,” Khokar said.

According to Khokar, a biopsy that would have a 55% success rate is now 95% successful with the help of this tool. He says within a day, someone could be diagnosed with lung cancer, get surgery and begin treatment. “It’s taken something that usually takes six months down to an hour,” he said.

Khokar calls the technology a game changer. “We’re able to diagnosis cancer early and shift that diagnosis from Stage 4 to Stage 1 along with lung cancer screening and greatly improve survival,” he said.

The advanced imaging has allowed Shifler the chance to be cancer-free for over a year.

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