Robotic surgery

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on April 1, 2022.

What is the da Vinci Surgical System robotic surgery?

The da Vinci® Surgical System is a robotic surgery system that offers a minimally invasive alternative to both open surgery and laparoscopy. Because robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, requires only a few tiny incisions and offers greater vision, precision and control for the surgeon, patients often recover sooner, move on to additional treatments if needed, and get back to daily life quicker.

Benefits of robotic surgery

Potential benefits of robotic surgery for patients include:

  • Reduced pain
  • Lower risk of infection or complications
  • Less blood loss (fewer transfusions)
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Less scarring due to smaller incisions
  • Faster return to normal activities (e.g., sexual function, urinary continence)

City of Hope surgeons perform minimally invasive robotic surgeries (such as prostatectomy, hysterectomy and colectomy) to treat many cancers, including:

Is robotic surgery right for you?

While robotic surgery is used to treat many cancers, not all cancer patients are candidates for this procedure. You may have many questions about whether robotic surgery is right for you. Don’t hesitate to ask your surgeon, surgical oncologist or other members of your care team about what to expect. Some questions to consider may include:

  • Is robotic surgery a good option for my cancer?
  • Why have robotic surgery instead of open surgery?
  • What are the potential risks?
  • What are the side effects of this type of surgery?
  • Will I still require anesthesia?
  • Will I need a blood transfusion?
  • How long will my procedure take?

The American Cancer Society offers a list of questions to consider asking your doctor before your surgery.

How da Vinci Surgery robotic surgery works

With the da Vinci system’s ergonomic design, the surgeon operates from a comfortable, seated position at a console, with eyes and hands in line with the instruments, and a magnified, high-definition 3-D view of the target anatomy. Some potential advantages of da Vinci Surgery robotic surgery include:

  • Greater surgical precision
  • Increased range of motion
  • Improved dexterity
  • Enhanced visualization, including areas that may not be seen by the naked eye
  • Improved access to hard-to-reach areas
  • Improved ability to spare healthy tissue not impacted by cancer

During a da Vinci robotic surgery procedure, the surgeon makes a few tiny incisions to insert miniaturized instruments and a high-definition camera inside the patient. The camera allows the surgeon to view a highly magnified, high-resolution 3-D image of the surgical site.

Seated comfortably at an ergonomically designed console, with eyes and hands in line with the instruments, the surgeon uses controls below the viewer to move the instrument arms and camera. The da Vinci Surgical System then translates, in real time, the surgeon’s hand, wrist and finger movements into precise movements of the instruments inside the patient.

Throughout a da Vinci robotic surgery procedure, the surgeon controls every surgical maneuver. The system cannot be programmed or act in any way without the surgeon’s input.

Learn more about the Flex® Robotic System for head and neck cancer treatment

What to expect from robotic surgery

If you are having robotic surgery for cancer, it’s likely you will be staying overnight at the hospital. Talk to your care team about whether a hospital stay is necessary and how long your stay may last and pack accordingly. Make sure you pack comfortable, loose fitting clothes to wear for your trip home. Whether you are staying overnight or are having an outpatient procedure, make sure you have transportation arranged.

Some other tips you may want to remember:

Follow directions. Talk to your care team about dos and don’ts before your surgery, including what you can eat and drink the evening and morning before surgery.

Get supplies. Find out in advance what supplies you may need for your recovery, such as bandages and gauze, and get them in advance.

Plan your meals. Ask your care team about any dietary restrictions and make sure your refrigerator and pantry are stocked with healthy foods and beverages before your procedure.   

Monitor side effects. Make sure to keep track of your side effects and contact your care team if they become severe. If you have a medical emergency, dial 911.

Managing side effects

Robotic surgery is designed to minimize side effects, but it’s likely you will experience some side effects from your procedure. Side effects may depend on the type of cancer surgery performed, the extent of the surgery, your overall health and other factors. Side effects from robotic surgery may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual side effects
  • Infection

It’s important to tell your care team about any side effects you are experiencing after your robotic surgery and which may be improving or getting worse. At City of Hope, our surgeons and surgical oncologists work closely with supportive care providers who offer services intended to help manage your side effects. Supportive care services that may be helpful to robotic surgery patients under certain circumstances include:

Learn more about supportive care

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