On Dec. 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the da Vinci Surgical System® for benign and malignant tumors in such locations as the tongue, tonsils, mouth and voice box.
Studies have found that, compared with conventional surgical techniques, the robotic system can result in shorter hospital stays, fewer complications, less blood loss and scarring and reduced risks of infections and long-term swallowing problems.
“The system provides 3-D, high-definition visualization and is significantly more precise,” said head-and-neck surgeon Dr. Chad Zender, an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Loyola head-and-neck surgeon Dr. Francis Ruggiero added the robotic system “provides amazingly facile movements.”
The system includes four robotic arms. One arm has a pair of small video cameras. The other three arms control miniaturized surgical tools. The surgeon sits at a console with a 3-D monitor and two joysticks. Movements by the surgeon’s hand or wrist are translated into precise movements of the surgical instruments. The robot makes no decisions on its own and can not be pre-programmed. Every maneuver is directed by the surgeon, in real time, as the surgeon views a highly magnified image of the surgical site.
“The robotic system will be a major plus in the treatment of head, neck and oral cancers,” said Dr. James Stankiewicz, chairman of Loyola’s Department of Otolaryngology. “The system will enhance the skills of subspecialty surgeons.”
Oral, head and neck cancers account for about 3 percent of all cancer cases in the United States. In 2009, more than 35,000 Americans were diagnosed with these cancers, and 7,600 died.
When diagnosed early, oral, head and neck cancers are easier to cure. Common early warning signs include:
— A red or white patch in the mouth that lasts more than two years.
— Change in voice or hoarseness that lasts more than two years.
— Sore throat that does not subside.
— Pain or swelling in the mouth or neck that does not subside.
— Lump in the neck.
Warning signs that occur in later stages include:
— Ear pain.
— Difficulty speaking or swallowing.
— Difficulty breathing.
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