Robots Remove Tumors

July 4, 2009 12:41:47 PM PDT
Doctors in the United States are breaking new ground: removing large tumors with the help of robots. We go inside the OR for a firsthand look as doctors try to do what's never been done before.Bedtime is dad's special time with his two boys. But this night is special. Soon, Mick Jones goes into surgery.

"It's actually been a blessing to find it early, because they say it just keeps on growing," Jones told Ivanhoe.

Mick's esophagus is closing up. He has a non-cancerous tumor wrapping itself around it, making it almost impossible for him to eat.

"When it goes down, you get a pain," Jones said. "You fee a cramp, like you've been running too long."

"It's a tumor that, if you don't take it out, will increase in size and eventually obstruct his esophagus completely," Miguel Gomez, M.D., Director of Robotic Surgery at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute in Houston, Texas, told Ivanhoe.

Cameras are inside the operating room when doctors attempt for the first time in the United States to remove a tumor wrapped around the esophagus with a robot. Five small incisions are made, connecting the machine outside to robotic hands inside.

A problem takes place in the middle of surgery -- every time Dr. Gomez grabs the tumor, a piece breaks off. "We passed a suture through the middle of the tumor twice and used that suture for leverage against the tumor," Dr. Gomez said.

Once the tumor is freed, a net-like device is inserted to pull it out. "We initially thought the tumor would be 5 centimeters in size, but it turned out to be 10 centimeters in size," Dr. Gomez said.

Traditional surgery would involve a large incision of eight to 10 inches between the ribs, dividing muscles and spreading the rib cage to get to the tumor. With the robot-assisted surgery, just five tiny incisions and no muscle cutting or rib splitting is required -- taking recovery for Jones from two months to two weeks.

It brought back family dinners to the Jones table.

"I noticed after the first day, eating has been phenomenally easier," Jones said.

There's a small risk the robot will malfunction, but Dr. Gomez has never had that happen to him. Surgeons are prepared to leave the robot and do traditional hands-on surgery at any time.

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