Using Robots to Remove the Esophagus

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Last year in the United States, doctors diagnosed 18,000 new cases of cancer of the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. While no one is sure exactly what causes it, age, gender, and a history of acid reflux are risk factors. Now, surgeons are using a new technique to remove the esophagus and help patients recover faster than ever before.

The key to John Adamek's happiness is getting behind the wheel of his truck, or cruising with his camper. But he had to put the brakes on with hardly any warning.

Adamek told Ivanhoe, "They found it by accident, in essence. I had no symptoms."

After routine bloodwork and lots of tests, John learned he had cancer of the esophagus. It needed to come out.

Sharona Ross, MD, FACS, Director of Surgical Endoscopy at Florida Hospital Tampa told Ivanhoe, "A lot of things can go wrong if you are an inexperienced surgeon, doing it alone."

Dr. Ross and Dr. Alex Rosemurgy, MD, teamed up for a delicate, robotic surgery.

"Robotic esophagectomy is unique," Dr. Ross said.

With one surgeon bedside, and a second at the controls of the robot, incisions are made in the neck and the abdomen and the esophagus is removed. Surgeons are able to avoid the chest area, meaning less chance of serious complications.

Dr. Ross explained, "We, in fact, were able to completely bypass the intensive care unit."

The robotic surgery also meant a faster recovery time. John was out of the hospital in six days, and he's getting used to life without his esophagus.

"My stomach is now up here. It doesn't feel any different. Internally I feel fine. I feel like I have my original strength," Adamek said.

Which meant he could get right back on the road.

Doctors say not every esophageal cancer patient is a candidate for minimally invasive, robotic surgery. Experts say it's important that the cancer has not spread. John Adamek says his health insurance covered most of the $134,000 cost of the surgery.

Sharona Ross, MD, FACS
Florida Hospital Tampa
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