Innovations In Diagnosis and Treatment of Lung Cancer, Making A Difference For Patients this Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States, according to American Cancer Society statistics. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., accounting for about 1 in 5 of all cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. The tide is turning on lung cancer though. Innovations and advancements in screening and treatment for lung cancer, have helped the number lung cancer deaths per year to drop significantly.

To further reduce the number of lung cancer deaths, the American Cancer Society announced new screening guidelines this week, calling for 5 million additional people to be regularly screened for lung cancer. Previously, the American Cancer Society recommended annual lung cancer screening for adults ages 55 to 74 with at least a 30 pack-year smoking history who either currently smoke or quit smoking less than 15 years ago. Now the American Cancer Society says people who smoked at least 20 packs a year should get regularly screened, even if they quit smoking more than 15 years ago. This is important because doctors started seeing lung cancer develop in patients who hadn’t smoked in more than 15 years.

Doctors from Hackensack Meridian Health and the John Theurer Cancer Center are available to talk about the advancements in screenings and treatments this November, lung cancer awareness month on a variety of topics including:


  • New Ion Biopsy Testing for Lung Cancer – While lung cancer screening and CT scans have been able to detect abnormalities or potential cancers in the lung earlier, now, lung specialists have a new tool. Called Ion, the novel technology enables thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists to navigate the human lung which consists of intricate tissue and a vast network of narrow and delicate airways to access hard-to-reach nodules. The minimally invasive, robotic-assisted tool, shown in this video, can help doctors identify lung cancers earlier and more accurately than with existing technologies, allowing patients to start effective treatment sooner and obtain better outcomes. “It makes all the difference in the world,” says thoracic surgeon, Dr. Geoffrey Pelz, who compares working with the technology to driving with a GPS. “The Ion is so advanced, it helps guide you directly where you need to go, anywhere in the lung.  I can use the technology either for biopsy, or to put dye in the lung nodule to localize it.  In combination with the DaVinci Surgical Robot, I can resect the nodule in question during the same trip to the operating room saving time and unnecessary steps for the patients.  It allows me to perform more lung sparing surgeries and help patients recover much faster and get back to living their lives cancer free.” 


Nobody knows this better than lung cancer survivor Kathleen Keenan Weil. “Nearly 20 years ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer after doctors cut 8 inches from just under my right armpit down to my rib cage,” explains Kathleen who recently developed a new lung cancer. “This time, the biopsy was performed with the assistance of the Ion which pinpointed the cancer so my doctor could create a treatment plan and I could get on with my life.”

More than 70% of lung nodules that need to be biopsied (analyzed to see if they are cancer) reside far in the periphery of the lung, making them very difficult to biopsy using conventional bronchoscopy (a tube with a camera on its tip inserted through a patient’s mouth into the lungs). The Ion system combines computed tomography (CT) data and robotic-assisted surgical technology to facilitate and expedite access to these nodules. The entire procedure is performed through bronchoscopy, without the need for any external surgical incisions.

  • Lung Segmentectomy Removing Cancer, Yet Preserving Lung Capacity – Lung segmentectomy is often recommended for early non-small cell lung cancer. This surgery removes the lung disease without removing excess normal lung, thus preserving lung function. It is especially helpful in patients with existing limited lung function, such as those with emphysema, and supports the goal of saving lung tissue in all patients whenever possible.  

Advances in technology allow us to use robotics to perform lung segmentectomy, offering minimal incisions and a level of precision that open surgery and even video-assisted surgery do not permit. Robot-assisted segmentectomy offers an alternative that is associated with fewer complications and shorter postoperative hospitalization than other techniques. Surgeons can also better remove affected lymph nodes in early lung cancer using robotics. More studies are needed to assess  postoperative pain, respiratory function, and quality of life, but this procedure offers great promise in thoracic oncologic surgery. 


  • Lung Cancer Pill – There is now a pill available for patients with stage 1-3 lung cancer who have undergone surgical resection that has been shown to reduce the risk of recurrence or death by 73%. Patients eligible for the drug must have an EGFR mutation on genetic testing of their cancer. This mutation is found in approximately 20% of patients with lung cancer, especially in non-smokers and women. 


“It’s the ultimate form of personalized cancer care and at JFK University Medical Center and across Hackensack Meridian Health System, we are genetically testing everyone with lung cancer to see what form of treatment is best suited for them. We at HMH have one of the most sophisticated genetic testing platforms available currently and are able to test genetic mutations both from the patient’s cancer and from the blood. We are now in the era of very targeted personalized cancer care where Hackensack Meridian Health is at the forefront, says Dr. Faiz Y. Bhora, M.D.,FACS, Professor and Regional Chairman of Surgery, Director Advanced Lung and Airway Center, and Chief of Thoracic Surgery,  Hackensack Meridian Health Network – Central Region, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “These are very exciting times in the treatment of lung cancer, with patients living much longer and disease-free lives than ever before.”

Dr. Bhora says the 5-year data with the pill is impressive and has several patients who would be willing to share their experience. Please contact us if you are interested in interviews. 


  • Clinical Trials Save Lives – In 2020 Mark Antonacci developed a cough that he thought was COVID. After several attempts and predictions into what was happening, Mark received a CAT Scan that showed he had small cell lung cancer. His chances of survival were grim. Along with treatment at the John Theurer Cancer Center, Mark was enrolled in a clinical trial at JTCC.  After 27 rounds of this clinical trial, Mark is miraculously in remission and was able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding in October. Clinical trials play an important role in the treatment of cancers and experts at JTCC are happy to discuss this topic. 


Hackensack Meridian Health physicians and patients are available for stories on the above topics and more this November, lung cancer awareness month.

Media Contacts:

Jessica Nussman                                                                   Danielle Woodruffe

551-237-0984 / [email protected]                      201-249-4838 /[email protected]                                                         


Mary McGeever

551-795-1675 / [email protected]

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