Meet the robot surgeon that makes treatment quicker and safer for cancer patients.
The Da Vinci XI Surgical System, affectionately dubbed ‘the robot’, features a fluorescent camera and rotating wrists. The size, dexterity and precision of its tiny ‘hands’ enables it to perform tasks as intricate as peeling a grape and stitching it back together.
But don’t worry, a human mind controls the robot. A surgeon operates it via a console that converts his or her hand movements into robotic ones. The robot’s video camera captures magnified footage from inside the patient’s body, which appears in real time on a 3D screen.
Professor Trevor Tejada-Berges, a gynaecological oncologist at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, says the robot has benefited numerous uterine and endometrial surgery patients. It makes a series of small incisions where a human surgeon would need to make one large one, resulting in a much less invasive, and therefore less risky, surgery.
“When we compare open surgery to a robotic approach, most studies show that pain is significantly decreased,” he says. “So, you’re up and out of bed and you’re taking less narcotics with a lot less pain.”
Smaller incisions mean less blood loss, lowering the risk of infections and the need for blood transfusions. This makes it easier to operate on women with health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and scar tissue from previous operations. Fewer complications and less pain reduces hospital stays from four days to just one night.
The robot also features a fluorescent camera that changes the way surgeons perform sentinel node biopsies.
“Instead of removing all the of the lymph nodes that drain the uterus to determine whether the cancer has spread before we make a decision on treatment, we can inject a fluorescent dye into the cervix or the uterus, which highlights those lymph nodes.”
This leaves patients with less risk of lymphoedema, and fewer chronic lymphoceles or cysts.
In December 2015, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse became home to the first dual-console surgical robot system in the Southern Hemisphere. Three years later, there are around fourteen other robots in the Greater Sydney area alone.
“We’re hugely grateful to our donors. Without their support and the determination of a handful of people, we wouldn’t have access to such advanced technology. Ultimately, we want our surgical patients to have the best chance of recovery possible, in the shortest amount of time and this robot makes it possible,” says Professor Tejada-Berges.