Published on August 15, 2022

ION Procedure Ushers in ‘New Era’ for Lung Cancer Surgery at Silver Cross

At Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, lung cancer screenings are more effective than ever before, thanks to a new technology that makes it easier to detect and then remove the lesions in small areas of the lung previously unreachable except by invasive surgery. 

Kristopher McDonough
Gillian Alex-MD
Pulmonologist Dr. Kristopher McDonough and Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Gillian Alex are diagnosing lung cancer sooner and with greater accuracy than ever before using a powerful new tool now available at Silver Cross Hospital.

“Recently, a 73-year-old local gentleman went in for one of our lung scans and discovered he had a suspicious lesion on his lung,” said Austyn Bruno, Manager of Endoscopic Services at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. 

The patient said he didn’t even realize he had a problem. His personal physician recommended having a $99 Early Lung CT Scan at Silver Cross since he had been smoking consistently for 25 years.   

“I never had an issue with my health,” he said. “I walk the treadmill five days a week and maybe got a little short of breath.” 

In the past, Bruno said, bronchoscopes (devices to see inside the airways and lungs) could reach only so far. So, reaching – let alone identifying whether the node was cancerous – often meant having to go surgically through the chest to access the lung. 

Then, the surgeon would have to remove some or most of the lung to send the lesion to pathology for identification. Occasionally, this would involve removing nodules that eventually were determined to be benign. 

Dr. Kristopher McDonough, board-certified pulmonologist, and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Gillian Alex, both on staff at Silver Cross, had partnered before to identify and surgically remove suspicious lung nodules. But when they discovered a highly advanced robotic technology called ION, they knew it was a game-changer for easily identifying and removing suspicious lung masses. 

What is ION?

ION is a Robotic-Assisted Bronchoscope that uses a fully articulating, ultra-thin catheter to navigate airways, allowing the doctor to reach all 18 segments of the lungs with incredible accuracy. 

To do so, the ION system uses shape-sensing technology that allows for extremely precise control in getting to a difficult-to-reach nodule. 

“Think of the lung as being like a tree, with smaller and smaller branches away from the trunk,” said Dr. McDonough. “In the past, we were able to reach only 20 to 30 percent of the lung with a bronchoscope. With ION, we can reach more than 90 percent.” 

And without ION, he added, they would have to perform an invasive surgery or higher risk needle biopsy to reach those areas. 

Benefits of ION

With ION, the flexible robotic catheter can reach the nodule with a needle or other instrument and take a biopsy. This is reviewed in real-time in the operating room by a cytology technician and pathologist working closely with the team. In the case of the New Lenox man, they found it was cancerous. 

One of the more amazing parts of the ION procedure, Dr. McDonough said, it that it can precisely return to the spot where the biopsy sample was taken. In this case, Dr. McDonough marked the area with a dye so Dr. Alex could easily see it once she started the second part of the procedure. She just needed a few small incisions in the chest to remove only a small portion of the affected lung, as well as determine it had not spread. 

Amazing Results

“The patient arrived at the hospital on May 23, only a few weeks after the CT scan, and went to sleep not knowing if he had cancer,” Bruno said. “When he woke after his procedure, Dr. Alex and Dr. McDonough got to tell him and his family that you did have cancer, but you don’t anymore.” 

After the 90-minute procedure, the first in Will County, the patient was able to go home the next day with only some soreness from the incisions. 

“I’m back on the treadmill,” he said. “And I want to go golfing soon. This was just amazing. And all my doctors were great.” 

Dr. Alex and Dr. McDonough have two more candidates for a similar surgery soon at Silver Cross. And both are excited about it. 

“It is a new era for lung cancer surgery,” Dr. Alex said. “We can find and remove cancers when they are at Stage 1, before they have grown much larger and/or spread.” 

Both Dr. Alex and Dr. McDonough hope this and similar stories will encourage patients to seek out screening for lung cancer. “We know there are about 8,000 people in Will County who meet criteria for lung cancer screening,” Dr. McDonough said. “But so far in the past 12 months, only about 600 have been screened. We encourage all those who may be at risk of lung cancer because of smoking to get screened at Silver Cross by calling 815-300-LUNG (5684). Now, we have a better way to detect and treat lung cancer before it can spread. But they need to get screened.” 

For more information about the $99 early lung CT scan at Silver Cross, visit silvercross.org/lung.

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.