Robotics in Cancer Surgery

Robotic surgery has been in use for a couple of decades, beginning with the first approval of the da Vinci Surgical System by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. Robotic surgical systems help surgeons perform procedures with more precision, control, and flexibility. Technological advances in robotic surgery allow for more complicated, less invasive procedures to be performed, which is helping cancer patients who previously may have needed invasive, risky surgeries.

Why Doctors Choose Robotics for Cancer Patients

The way that most robotic surgery systems work is through control of robotic arms by the surgeon. The surgeon sits at a computer and operates the arms that have surgical instruments attached to them. The surgeon can see an enlarged, high-definition, and three-dimensional view of the surgery area.

There are several reasons surgeons may choose to use robotic surgery for cancer treatment procedures. The robotic arms are more dexterous and can get to harder-to-reach areas than human arms can. It is possible in many cases to use a small incision and a minimally invasive strategy to remove tumors with this system, which would be difficult to impossible with a human surgeon. As a result the procedure can be done in less time and with a quicker recovery with fewer side effects for the patient.

Robotic Surgery Giving Mesothelioma Patients Hope

One example of robotic surgery helping to improve outcomes for cancer patients is in a high-risk procedure for pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is the cancer caused by asbestos exposure and is aggressive and difficult to treat. One of the few procedures that actually give patients the hope of remission is a radical surgery known as extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP).

EPP involves removing the pleural tissue where the cancer originated, but also much more tissue, including an entire lung. Researchers working with mesothelioma patients and robotic surgery systems have found that using the system to assist in an EPP makes the procedure safer, results in lower blood loss, and allows the surgeon to remove more of the cancerous tissue.

Risks of Robotic Surgery for Cancer Patients

Robotic surgery is not perfect, and as with any surgical procedure or strategy there are risks. A few studies have found that for some patients the outcomes of robotic surgery are not as good as for traditional surgery. These instances included women being treated for cervical and breast cancers. Potential adverse events using robotics include device malfunction, patient injury, pieces of instruments falling into patients, electrical arcing.

Experts who work with these surgical systems point out that the safety issues are often highly dependent on individual factors. For some types of surgery and cancer the benefits of using robotics greatly outweigh the risks. For others, the risks may be too high. It is important for individual surgeons, oncologists, and patients to make the decision as to whether or not using robotic systems make sense.

Research into using robotic surgery for treating cancer patients is likely to continue. Patients who otherwise face being unable to have surgery or having invasive, high-risk procedures, like EPP, now have more hope. These are the cancer patients who can truly benefit from a robotic system and have a better chance at surviving longer.

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