Ekkasit Keatsirikul/123RF

Robotics Being Used to Improve Pancreatic Cancer Surgeries

  • 30 December 2017
  • Sam Mire

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease, and one of the most difficult to treat. This unsettling reality makes recent robotic-reliant developments in pancreatic cancer surgery even more meaningful.

Surgeons at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta have been some of the American pioneers in experimentation with robotic pancreatic cancer surgeries. The innovation in surgical techniques has expanded patients’ options from two to three. Prior to the rise in robotic surgery procedures, one could choose either traditional open abdominal surgery or minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.

“Robotic surgery is a newer surgical option,” said David Kooby, MD. “The technical aspects of this surgery are pretty similar to open abdominal surgery, but without making a big incision.”

For the surgery to be conducted, the surgeon controls surgical tools connected to thin robotic arms using a computer console specially-created for the process. The console allows for a three-dimensional perspective which provides far-greater depth perception than traditional methods. The robotic arms are ambidextrous and contain ‘wrists’ which can rotate 360 degrees, a range of motion which humans cannot replicate.

“The robot can handle very complex tasks such as suturing blood vessels and peeling tumors away from structures,” Kooby added.

The minimally invasive nature of the surgery means less pain and recovery time, a period which is notoriously lengthy in traditional open abdominal pancreatic tumor removal procedures. The precision which the three-dimensional camera provides the surgeon also allows for decreased prodding and post-surgical pain. This has meant patients being able to return to chemotherapy more quickly, increasing their chances that the cancer will go into remission. Better yet, the use of robotics is not limited to pancreatic cancer.

The robotic procedure is known as a Robotic Whipple, and the first was conducted in Italy in 2003. Now, more and more American doctors are suggesting that patients give the Whipple method a try. With Whipple machines costing approximately $2.3 million, not every facility can afford them, but surgeons who come to rely upon them advocate strongly for the investment.

“Even with microscopes on your face, what we see with robot vision is better. It’s extraordinarily strong,” surgical oncologist Dr. Mary Dillhoff said. “The view is beautiful. You can see every tiny little plane of tissue. It’s a big investment, but we think it’s worth it.”

About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.