Robotic Surgery Helping Cancer Patients

April 20, 2012

By Ashley Hall

MEDFORD, Ore. — Gynecologic cancers can be tough to diagnose and treat and, until recently, required large incisions with long recovery times; but Providence Medford Medical Center is one of the hospitals that’s improving the procedure with the help of a robot.

Three tiny tools translate a surgeon’s movements into miniscule motion. From a surgery station, a few feet away from the operating table, the tiny movements of OBGYN Dr. Brook’s fingers and feet remove possible cancer from the uterus, cervix or ovaries.

“For ovarian masses, those traditionally can be wrapped in scar tissue, that type of thing. We can actually go in, get that ovary, take it out, and have that diagnosed without having to open the patient,” says Dr. Brooks.

Instead of a large incision of traditional abdominal surgery, those facing a diagnosis of gynecological cancer have just a few incisions, the size of a large pencil. Just enough room for the arms of a Da Vinci robot, instead of the surgeon’s actual hands, similar to laparoscopic surgery but much more precise.

“Traditional laparoscopic surgery, the instruments only work one way,” Dr. Brooks explains, “With the robot, we have a 3D view of what’s going on inside the body, instead of just a flat television, screen. And then it’s almost as if our hands are in there, as I said, because we’re able to actually able to twist and turn as a human hand would be able to do.”

Smaller incisions mean easier recovery. “So instead of all of that pain, recovery time, all of that downtime, you’re only looking at an overnight stay instead of 3-4 nights, Advil for pain relief; instead of narcotic pain medications for prolonged period of time. So, you really get a lot of benefit from being able to use the robot,” explains Dr. Brooks.

The benefits go beyond minimalizing the side effects of surgery; outcomes can also be improved.

“We’re also able to get really down on those vessels and get that margin that we need, particularly for those ovarian cancer patients or people who have breast cancer and need their ovaries removed because the ovaries are feeding their cancer,” says Dr. Brooks.

For endometrial cancer patients, standard treatment is a hysterectomy, which is known for having a long, and often painful recovery.

“If you have a desk job, you’re back at work in 1-2 weeks. And it was 6-8 weeks if you had a traditional hysterectomy,” Dr. Brooks says.

They are seeing such positive results in cancer patients, which Dr. Brooks expects the future of all hysterectomies to be done this less-invasive way. Rogue Valley Medical Center also has one of these Da Vinci robots and is using it for a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic surgeries as well.