Surgery is almost always a critical treatment for patients with lung cancer. In the past, however, the only way to remove tumors was through a complex, open-chest operation that resulted in a lot of pain for the patient and a higher risk of complications. This method remains the most common technique used in operating rooms today.
Sharp Memorial Hospital is one of the few hospitals in San Diego to offer patients an alternative approach, one that leverages new technology and other surgical innovations. Robotic lung cancer surgery is a sophisticated, minimally invasive treatment option that delivers far more potential benefits than traditional surgery, including less damage from incisions, better outcomes and a faster recovery.
“Robotic surgery really is a new frontier for lung cancer treatment,” says Dr. Craig Larson, DO, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Sharp Memorial, who performs the procedure. “The robot gives us superior control, makes our movements more precise and allows us to see better inside the body.”
How robotic lung surgery works
The robotic system looks a bit like an oversized arcade claw crane, with four mechanical arms. A surgeon controls the movement of the arms through a console several feet from the operating table. Using advanced technology, the robot translates every single movement from a surgeon’s hand, wrist and fingers into tiny instruments attached to the mechanical arms. Through this method, the surgeon only needs to make a few small incisions to reach a tumor.
The system can even minimize the slightest hand tremor, an important consideration in a delicate area such as the lungs.
A surgeon’s point of view
One of the greatest benefits of robotic surgery is enhanced vision during the procedure, says Dr. Karl Limmer, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Sharp Memorial, who also performs this surgery. Through the console, a surgeon gets a high-definition, three-dimensional view inside the chest. The robot can also magnify the surgical area by a factor of 10.
“Robotic surgery is an incredible advancement for working in very confined spaces, such as the lungs, where even a small injury to a lung vessel can quickly become a serious complication,” says Dr. Limmer. “This procedure allows for more precise movements, which minimizes the risk to patients and leads to better outcomes.”
Robotics in the future
Currently, fewer than 5% of thoracic surgeries in the U.S. are robot-assisted. However, robotics are set to transform how surgeons treat deadly diseases like lung cancer, according to Dr. Larson. This is particularly true for patients whose lung tumors are discovered in earlier stages when the cancer is easier to treat.
“Robotic surgery opens the door to offering the procedure to patients who would not be candidates for traditional surgery, including older patients and those with other medical challenges,” says Dr. Larson. “Ultimately, a lot more people will be able to get back to their normal lives a lot faster.”
Learn more about lung cancer treatment at Sharp.