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Robotics - cancer treatment of the future, today

With new therapies and technologies continually emerging, the cancer treatment landscape looks entirely different today than it did just 10 years ago. One type of advanced treatment that is becoming more and more prominent is robotic surgery.

The first documented use of robotics for surgery dates back to 1987, when a surgeon used a laparoscopic procedure to perform a cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder).

During laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes small incisions and then inserts a laparoscope (a thin tube equipped with a tiny video camera), which enables him or her to see inside the body on a nearby monitor.

This was just the beginning, and today even more advanced forms of robotic surgery are being used to treat cancer.

What is robotic surgery?

Also known as computer-assisted surgery, robotic surgery describes robotic systems that have been designed specifically to assist with surgery. These systems allow surgeons to perform a range of delicate and complex surgical procedures to remove difficult-to-reach cancerous tumors with increased vision, precision, dexterity and control.

Each robotic system is slightly different. In general, the surgeon manipulates robotic arms to perform the procedure instead of using his/her hands, which allows for access to hard-to-reach tumors. Some systems also incorporate cameras and 3D imaging to allow the surgeon to view locations deeper inside the body.

The machine does not actually perform the surgery. The systems cannot be programmed or act in any way without the surgeon’s input, leaving the surgeon in control at all times.

The doctor who controls the robotic system must already be a surgeon, and complete a specified number of training hours and practice cases. The amount of training required varies from machine to machine.

Benefits of robotic surgery

Robotic surgery is typically performed through smaller incisions or operating ports, so it is less invasive. The potential benefits include: shorter recovery times, reduced hospitalization, fewer complications and less trauma to the patient.

Many of the systems allow for the surgeon to sit during the procedure, making him or her more comfortable and focused. Sitting can also help the surgeon avoid fatigue during longer procedures.

Types of robotic treatments at CTCA

Here are two examples of advanced robotic treatments that are now available at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).

Da Vinci® Surgical System

The da Vinci® Surgical System can be used to treat numerous different types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, colon,uterus, pancreas and prostate.

During a procedure using the da Vinci System, the surgeon is seated comfortably at an ergonomically designed console. First, the surgeon makes a few tiny incisions to introduce miniaturized surgical instruments and a high-definition camera inside the patient. The camera allows the surgeon to view a highly magnified, high-resolution 3D image of the surgical site.

With eyes and hands in line with the instruments, the surgeon uses controls below the viewer to move the instrument arms and camera. The system then translates, in real time, the surgeon’s hand, wrist and finger movements into precise movements of the instruments inside the patient.

Advantages of da Vinci:

  • Greater surgical precision
  • Increased range of motion
  • Improved dexterity
  • Enhanced visualization
  • Improved access

CyberKnife® VSI™ Robotic Radiosurgery System

The CyberKnife® VSI™ Robotic Radiosurgery System is the latest version of the CyberKnife technology, and a non-invasive alternative to cancer surgery. The robotic system enables radiation oncologists to deliver high doses of radiation with pinpoint accuracy to a broad range of tumors throughout the body, including the lungs, prostate and pancreas.

Prior to the procedure, a high-resolution CT scan determines the size, shape and location of the tumor. The image data is then digitally transferred to the CyberKnife System’s workstation, where a treatment plan is determined to match the desired radiation dose to the exact tumor location.

The patient is comfortably positioned on a cushioned table and the system’s computer-controlled robot slowly moves around the table, targeting radiation to the tumor from various angles while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

The system’s sophisticated software allows for tracking of the tumor and the ability to continually adjust the radiation treatment to account for patient or tumor movement.

Each treatment session lasts between 30 to 90 minutes for one to five days, depending on the location and type of tumor being treated.

Advantages of CyberKnife:

  • Targeting of tumors
  • Precise, high radiation dose
  • Less damage to surrounding healthy tissue
  • Greater comfort during treatment
  • Shorter treatment times

For the patient, benefits include:

  • No incision
  • No use of invasive head or body frame
  • Greater comfort (patient can breathe normally during treatment)
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