Robotic surgery for cancer patients: Opportunities & challenges

For a long time, cancer has been treated with conventional open surgery that left patients to deal with pain and prolonged recovery. However, the advent of robotics has completely transformed this space.


The treatment of cancer related ailments is one such area where there is a need for constant effort to improve and attain higher success rates. Cancer affects the cells of the body and causes uncontrolled multiplication of cells forming tumors or polyps (in its early stages) which expand and spread to other parts of the body causing threat to life. Cancer is treated through surgery and aided by chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate malignant tumors from the body, hence prevent permanent damage to organs.

Treating cancer through traditional surgery
The surgical procedure traditionally used to treat cancer is known as open surgery. In an open surgery, the surgeon manually makes a single large cut in the body through which the growth as well as surrounding tissues and lymph nodes are removed. Open surgery has helped cancer patients greatly in the past but the associated problems such as- considerable loss of blood, longer recovery period, risk of infection, limited access and vision, these problems resulted in the medical healthcare field attempting to come up with an alternative which could overcome the barriers and problems posed by open surgery while improving the efficiency, accuracy and success of the procedure.

The development of an alternative- Robotic surgery
Robotic surgery is an advanced form of laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure that involves the use of a camera to observe hard-to-reach parts of the human body. The camera is attached to a tube and is inserted through multiple smaller cuts, which are 0.5-1 cm big. Minimally invasive surgery is a viable alternative to open surgery and eliminates the major risks involved in it. Robotic surgery is not performed by robots; the surgeons are in complete control and direct the surgery using robotic tools which provide a greater degree of steadiness, accuracy and reach in comparison to the human hands and arms. Robotic surgery has addressed and overcome nearly every major drawback of traditional open surgery.

The opportunities and advantages of robotic surgery for cancer
Over the last decade, robotic assisted surgery has become the primary form of surgical treatment for many cancer types  and conditions. It is a significant upgrade on open surgery as it eliminates problems and offers several benefits as well:
• The accuracy, efficiency, freedom of movement, range of motion, available vision, dexterity is all massively increased due to the steadiness, fineness and size of the robotic arm structure. The surgeons can view and perform on organs and parts which cannot be reached or seen in an open surgical procedure.
• The blood loss is greatly reduced as is the trauma suffered because the incisions and cuts are much smaller. In many cases, blood transfusions are avoided completely! The risk of infection and complications is also very less because of the small cuts.
• The recovery period as well as the hospital stay duration is significantly reduced. The
patient can resume normal life much quicker than in alternative options.
• The pain and physical scarring are minor in comparison to open surgeries.

Robotic assisted surgery brings more benefits to the table than traditional surgeries and offers cancer patients an experience which is better, less painful, less risky and quicker to recover from. It is an upgrade on all aspects of a surgery.

The limitations and future of robotic surgery
Today, robotic surgery is already the primary, preferred method for certain cancer related procedures. Robotic surgery eliminates almost every problem but the following must always be kept in mind:
• Robotic surgery is only as good and effective as the surgeon carrying out the procedure.
• Robotic surgery adds a risk of mechanical malfunctions (for example internal burns or
wounds from the structures).

This risk is increasingly rare as the apparatus is proof tested and double checked before any procedure. The quality of apparatus is advancing all the time thanks to technological
developments but the mechanical aspect is only present in robotic surgeries and not in the alternatives.

The main issue to be addressed is perfecting the technology to an extent where it can be applied on all cancer types and affected regions.

Dr Sandeep Nayak

Senior Consultant,
Surgical Oncology – Laparoscopy & Robotic Onco Surgery Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore.

Leave a Reply