Robotic surgery is improving outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United States according to the American Cancer Society. At Greenville Health System, robot-assisted surgery is changing the way doctors treat pancreatic cancer. With the breakthrough da Vinci Surgical System®, minimally invasive robotic surgeries have been performed for a number of years in surgical fields like urology and gynecology at Prisma Health and around the world. Still, there are some specialties just beginning to see the full potential of robotic surgery. One of those is surgical oncology.

Traditional surgical oncology procedures are known to be complex and often demanding. Surgical oncologists must use precise skill and technique as they maneuver around important vascular structures. Because of this, surgical oncologists have been hesitant to embrace robotics in the past. But Steven Trocha, MD, surgical oncologist at Prisma Health’ Multidisciplinary Center (MDC), is proving the advantages far outweigh the risks in pancreatic cancer surgeries.

Although laparoscopic surgeries rather than open procedures have become standard, they provide surgeons a limited amount of control in the operating room. Robotic tools like the da Vinci allow surgeons a full range of motion that closely resembles that of a human’s hand movements, all while viewing a magnified, three-dimensional image of the patient’s interior structures. Dr. Trocha says the biggest benefit is “being able to sew efficiently and accurately,” using instruments such as miniature tweezers and scissors that are the size of a fingernail.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month. It is also the month that marks Dr. Trocha’s two-year anniversary performing robotic surgeries, and he recently completed his 200th robot-assisted case. Although once hesitant to try robotics himself, Dr. Trocha says he has done all the types of surgeries in the last two years he would have done open, which includes some of the most complicated cases. “There are lots of cases where members of our department were the first to do robotic surgery in the state of South Carolina,” Trocha said. And the success of his robotic surgeries is tangible. It’s enabled Dr. Trocha to more than quadruple the success rate of his surgeries (i.e., the surgery is completed without opening the patient). This means shorter recovery times for patients.

Dr. Trocha and the MDC are committed to providing patients with the highest level of expertise, including the use of surgical robots. As more and more robotic surgeries in oncology are performed with success, the outlook for patients with all types of cancer grows brighter.

Ashley Hall is a medical writer with Prisma Health’s Department of Surgery.

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