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New robotic technology helping to find, treat lung cancer

Robotic technology helping to find, treat lung cancer
Robotic technology helping to find, treat lung cancer 02:13

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Lung cancer survival rates are improving, according to the American Lung Association's annual report that was released Tuesday. The five-year survival rate is now 25%. 

Lung cancer is so deadly because it's usually not found early.  

Doctors at Main Line Health say new technology could help reverse the trend. Robotic technology finds lung cancer early and also has the ability to treat it at the same time. 

A life-saver times two. 

Kathleen McGinn and her surgeon are celebrating her surviving lung cancer because it was found early and treated with a new robotic procedure. 

"I'm very optimistic for my future," Kathleen said. 

The new technology, robotic bronchoscopy, allows doctors to get to small, remote parts of the lung with imaging guidance and tiny tubes. 

Dr. Partrick Ross with Main Line Health calls it "revolutionary." He says in addition to finding early-stage cancer, the robotic technology also allows doctors to treat it at the same time while patients are under general anesthesia

"When they wake up, we say you have lung cancer and it's treated. And that is all the difference," Ross said. 

The robotic technology is mainly used for patients who need a biopsy for a lung mass. Doctors say it's critically important for people at high-risk to get screened, it's a lifesaver. 

The new report says many former smokers who are eligible are not getting the recommended screenings and there are also a growing number of young women and nonsmokers being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Leah Phillips is a mom of three and a runner who never smoked.

Phillips was shocked when she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at age 43. 

"When they came back after the bone biopsy and said you have lung cancer, you could have knocked us over with a feather. My mom and my husband and I were all in the room," Phillips said. 

According to the new State of Lung Cancer report, nearly 237,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed this year and for people at high risk, only 5.8% of those eligible have been screened. 

"We're up to 25% survival at five years, which is significantly up from the 17% survival in 2015. We attribute most of this to early detection, better treatments and systemic therapies for patients who have lung cancer that spread to other parts of the body," Dr. Bobby Mahajan with the American Lung Association said. 

Up to 20% of people with lung cancer have never smoked.

Many are exposed to other risk factors including second-hand smoke, air pollution and radon gas. 

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It occurs naturally and can be inhaled in basements or through cracks in buildings and homes. 

The new report says radon in Pennsylvania is excessive. Thirty-nine percent of homes have high levels. 

"Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer," Phillips said. 

She says her type of lung cancer has been linked to radon exposure. Right now, her cancer is considered stable. 

"It has taught us a lesson that we live every day to the fullest. We make it a priority to spend time together as a family," she said. 

Doctors say it's unclear why a growing number of young women like Phillips are being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

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