Robotic surgery: less risky, painful

For a long time, cancer has been treated with conventional open surgery leaving patients with pain and prolonged recovery. However, technical and technological development over the past few decades has changed a lot of things.

The treatment of cancer-related ailments is one such area where there are constant efforts to improve and attain higher success rates. Cancer affects the cells of the body and causes uncontrolled multiplication of cells forming tumours or polyps (in its early stages) which expand and spread to other parts of the body causing threat to life. Cancer is treated mainly through surgery and aided by chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate these malignant tumours from the body and prevent permanent damage to organs.

The surgical procedure traditionally used to treat cancer is known as open surgery. In an open surgery, the surgeon manually makes a single large cut in the body through which the growth as well as surrounding tissues and lymph nodes are removed. Open surgery has helped cancer patients greatly in the past but the associated problems, such as considerable loss of blood, longer recovery period, risk of infection, limited access and vision, remain.

These problems have pushed the medical healthcare field to attempt coming up with an alternative which can overcome the barriers and problems posed by open surgery while improving the efficiency, accuracy and success of the procedure.

The alternative

Robotic surgery is an advanced form of laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure which involves the use of a camera to observe hard-to-reach parts of the human body. The camera is attached to a tube and inserted through multiple smaller cuts, which are 0.5-1 cm big. Minimally invasive surgery is a viable alternative to open surgery and eliminates the major risks involved in it.

Robotic surgery is not performed by robots; the surgeons are in complete control and direct the surgery using robotic tools which provide a greater degree of steadiness, accuracy and reach in comparison to human hands and arms. Robotic surgery has addressed and overcome nearly every major drawback of traditional open surgery.

Over the last decade, robotic-assisted surgery has become the primary form of surgical treatment for many cancer types and conditions. It is a significant upgrade on open surgery as it eliminates problems and offers several benefits as well:

• The accuracy, efficiency, freedom of movement, range of motion, available vision, dexterity are all massively increased due to the steadiness, fineness and size of the robotic arm structure. Surgeons can view and perform on organs and parts which cannot be reached or seen in an open surgical procedure.

• The blood loss is greatly reduced as is the trauma suffered because the incisions and cuts are much smaller. In many cases, blood transfusions are avoided completely! The risk of infection and complications is also very low because of the smaller cuts.

• The recovery period as well as the hospital stay duration is significantly reduced. The patient can resume normal life much faster than in traditional options.

• The pain and physical scarring is minor in comparison to open surgeries.

Robotic-assisted surgery brings more benefits to the table than traditional surgeries and offers cancer patients an experience which is better, less painful, less risky and quicker to recover from. It is an upgrade on all aspects of a surgery.

Today, robotic surgery is already the primary, preferred method for certain cancer-related procedures. The main issue to be addressed is perfecting the technology to an extent where it can be applied on all cancer types and affected regions. Robotic surgery eliminates almost every problem, but the following must always be kept in mind:

• Robotic surgery is only as good and effective as the surgeon carrying out the procedure.

• Robotic surgery adds a risk of mechanical malfunctions (for example, internal burns or wounds from the structures). This risk is increasingly rare as the apparatus is proof tested and double checked before any procedure. The quality of apparatus is advancing all the time thanks to technological developments but the mechanical aspect is only present in robotic surgeries and not in the alternatives.

(The writer is Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology – Laparoscopy & Robotic Onco Surgery – Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru)

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Robotic surgery: less risky, painful

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