Robotic technology to treat lung cancer

Dr. Gavin L. Henry
Dr. Gavin L. Henry (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

The da Vinci robotic technology allows doctors to perform more precise surgeries. The technique also enables patients to recover more quickly with fewer complications in many cases. The technique is used to perform many different types of surgeries. Dr. Gavin Henry, program director of the surgical residency at Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, uses it over traditional lobectomy surgery to treat patients with lung cancer. The hospital said Henry is poised to outpace every surgeon in Maryland in the use of robotic technology for this operation. He talks about the technique below.

What is da Vinci robotic technology?

The da Vinci robotic system is a sophisticated robotic platform designed to expand the surgeon's capabilities and offer a minimally invasive option for major surgery. With da Vinci, small incisions are used to introduce miniaturized wristed instruments and a high-definition 3-D camera. Seated at the da Vinci console, the surgeon views a magnified, high-resolution 3-D image of the surgical site.

At the same time, state-of-the-art robotic and computer technologies scale, filter and seamlessly translate the surgeon's hand movements into precise micro-movements of the da Vinci instruments.

The da Vinci system cannot be programmed, and it cannot make decisions on its own. The da Vinci system requires that every surgical maneuver be performed with direct input from a trained surgeon.

How new is the technology and how widespread is its use?

In 2000, the da Vinci became the first robotic surgical platform commercially available in the United States to be cleared by the FDA.

Currently, The da Vinci is being used in hundreds of locations worldwide, in major centers in the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia and Turkey. In August 2011, Saint Agnes became one of the first facilities in Maryland to use the da Vinci for robotic lung surgery.

Why do you like it better than traditional surgical techniques?

Some of the major benefits using the da Vinci system … include the ability to have greater surgical precision, increased range of motion, improved dexterity, enhanced visualization and improved access. The benefits experienced by my patients may include a shorter hospital stay, less pain, less risk of infection, less blood loss, fewer transfusions, less scarring, faster recovery and a quicker return to normal activities.

How do you use the technique in treating lung cancer and how is it different from traditional lobectomy surgery?

Traditional open surgery to access the chest cavity requires surgeons to make a long incision through the chest wall, known as thoracotomy. In some cases, the surgeon has to cut open the breastbone at the front of the ribcage.

Less-invasive options using smaller incisions are available for many patients. Thoracoscopy is video-assisted surgery that uses a miniature camera to help doctors perform the procedure without splitting the breastbone. This approach does have limitations and is often not appropriate for complex procedures.

The da Vinci system allows me to perform surgery through a few tiny incisions between the ribs … and avoid splitting your breastbone and rib cage. The system translates my hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of tiny instruments inside your body.

What are the outcomes for lung cancer patients when using the da Vinci technique? Are they more likely to beat the cancer?

In general, most patients that are surgical candidates have an improved chance of beating lung cancer. These patients are typically diagnosed in the earlier stages of cancer when compared to the average patient diagnosed with the disease.

What else can the da Vinci technology be used to treat?

The da Vinci system is now routinely used for a wide range of conditions in various specialties. At Saint Agnes we offer da Vinci technology for thoracic, gynecologic and bariatric surgery.

What can patients expect in terms of recovery time versus traditional surgery for this and other procedures?

For traditional surgery, the average stay in the hospital can be four to five days, with a typical recovery time of four to six weeks. With the use of the da Vinci technology, patients can go home as early as the next day or typically within 48 to 72 hours, with a total recovery time of approximately two to three weeks.



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