The Benefits of Robotic Surgery for Treating Colorectal Cancer - Virtua Article

The Benefits of Robotic Surgery for Treating Colorectal Cancer

By Keith Meslin, MD, Colorectal Surgeon—Virtua Surgical Group 

Years ago, a colorectal cancer diagnosis usually meant that you would need to have open colorectal surgery, requiring a large incision in your abdomen followed by a lengthy hospital stay and recovery. But, because of advances in robotic surgical technology, today’s colorectal surgeons can treat colorectal cancer precisely and effectively through several small incisions in your abdomen. This type of surgery reduces pain, lowers the risk of complications, and promotes a faster recovery. 

What is robotic surgery?

Robotic surgery is a type of minimally invasive surgery that’s performed using a robotic surgical system. The robotic surgical system has 4 robotic arms—3 that hold small surgical instruments and 1 that holds a small camera. From a console, the surgeon can maneuver the surgical instruments and camera through small incisions in the abdomen, as well as a view a monitor that displays 3-dimensional images from the camera.

A colorectal surgeon can use robotic surgical technology to perform these surgeries: 

Colectomy
A colectomy is a surgical procedure that removes all or part of the colon. After the surgeon removes the cancerous part of the colon, he or she reconnects the remaining healthy sections of the colon. In some cases, the surgeon performs a procedure called a colostomy, which reroutes stool through a stoma—a surgical opening in the abdomen—and into a bag.

Low anterior resection (LAR)
A LAR is a surgical procedure that removes rectal cancer. After the cancerous section is removed, the doctor reconnects the colon to the healthy part of the rectum. 

How is robotic colorectal surgery different from other surgical approaches?

Compared to open surgery, the robotic surgical system allows the surgeon to perform colorectal cancer surgery using smaller incisions. Robotic surgery also provides increased visibility, precision and dexterity compared to laparoscopic procedures. 

During the procedure, the surgeon uses the camera to get a three-dimensional, real-time view of the surgical area. The robotic surgical system provides visual enhancement tools such as fluorescent imaging to help the surgeon identify areas of the colon and rectum that have good blood supply. This makes it easier to reconnect healthy sections of the bowel successfully. 

The robotic surgical system also has “wristed” arms that rotate and move with greater range of motion than the human hand. The small surgical instruments also can operate in small spaces in the body where human hands can’t fit

What are the benefits of robotic colorectal surgery?

One of the biggest benefits of robotic colorectal surgery is that it causes less trauma to the body. Because robotic colorectal surgery uses smaller incisions, it promotes faster healing, less pain, reduced blood loss, less scarring, and a lower risk of infections. 

The robotic surgical system also allows the surgeon to maneuver in smaller spaces. This minimizes disruption of the abdominal wall and internal organs. In some cases, the ability to maneuver in tight spaces—combined with the additional dexterity, control, and precision that the robotic surgical system provides—helps patients avoid a permanent colostomy and maintain normal bowel function after surgery. 

Most patients who have robotic colorectal cancer surgery safely return home after a 3-day hospital stay, which is much shorter than the hospital stay required after open colorectal surgery. Patients who have robotic colorectal surgery may experience a faster at-home recovery with fewer complications when compared to patients who have open surgery. 

In addition, more than half of all patients who have robotic colorectal cancer surgery are discharged from the hospital without narcotic pain medications and can manage pain using over-the-counter medications. Limiting or eliminating the use of narcotic pain medications helps patients avoid bothersome side effects and reduces the risk of dangerous complications, such as prescription medication addiction or overdose. 

To learn more about colorectal cancer treatment and robotic surgery at Virtua, or to schedule a consultation with a Virtua colorectal surgeon, call 1-888-847-8823.

Updated September 20, 2018

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