How robotic surgery is helping cancer patients

June 23, 2016 | by George I. Salti, M.D.

Every day, we look to our smart phones, tablets and computers to message our friends, find out the weather forecast, or search for answers to questions we have. As technology continues to grow, we continue to rely more on machines to live our daily lives. The advancement of cancer treatment is no exception.

Technology impacts the lives of patients every day— from computer software to help a patient hear a loved one’s voice for the first time, to tracking treatment through an iPad. There are even online support groups patients can access from home to help them cope with the disease.

Now, computers are being used for cancer surgery too. More and more surgeons are learning the skill of robotic surgery to perform minimally invasive procedures through tiny incisions. How does robotic surgery work and what does it mean for you?

The world’s most advanced robot, the da Vinci® Surgical System, was first accredited by the Federal Drug Administration in 2000. Since then, the advancement of the robot has continued to grow.

The da Vinci system uses a three dimensional magnification screen which enables the surgeon to view the operative area in high resolution. Working at a control panel near the operating table, the surgeon guides the arms of the system. The robotic “wrists” rotate 360 degrees, which provides access to hard-to-reach areas of the body and unprecedented accuracy, flexibility and range of motion.   

The operating arms of the robot are very small, which allows the surgeon to operate inside the patient’s body with great precision and accuracy. Also, a tiny camera at the end of one of the robotic arms allows the surgeon to see clear images on a video monitor to guide them through the procedure.

This doesn’t mean a robot is operating on you or a loved one. Your surgeon is controlling the machine at all times by telling the robot what to do through delicate and specific movements. The machine responds to your surgeon’s hand, as your surgeon controls the procedure. Ultimately, the robotic arm allows for greater precision and accuracy than the human hand.

Compared to open surgery, robotic surgery patients experience many potential benefits, including:

  • Less post-operative pain
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Smaller scars
  • Shorter hospital stay and recovery time
  • Faster return to normal activities

In addition to cancer, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says robotic surgery can be used for a number of procedures, including coronary artery bypass, hip replacement, hysterectomy, a kidney transplant and more. Talk to your physician about the benefits of robotic surgery and determine if it is right for you.

How have you seen advances in technology help people with cancer? Tell us in the below comments.

Learn more about robotic and minimally invasive surgery at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Read Dr. George Salti's profile.

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