6 Things to Know about Robotic Surgery for Gynecological Cancer
Upon its advent in the late 1990s, robotic surgery was initially used for urologic procedures. Shortly after, it became popular for a variety of complex gynecological cancers, allowing countless women to benefit from this safe and effective minimally invasive option.
Robotic surgery – more specifically, the da Vinci system – now covers the vast majority of gynecological cancer procedures, including ovarian, cervical, and, most commonly, endometrial/uterine cancer, explains Dr. Janhvi G. Sookram, Gynecologic Oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township.
1. Preparation for robotic surgery is similar to that of a traditional, open surgery.
“Even though it’s minimally invasive, it’s not a minimal procedure,” said Dr. Sookram. “Aside from the usual fasting and stopping of certain medications, clearances from other physicians are needed. Tests are often ordered in advance to check on your general health and ensure you are fit to undergo surgery.”
2. The robot is a highly advantageous tool for the surgeon (as well as the patient).
Most routine robotic surgeries take around 2-3 hours. Once the da Vinci system docks over the patient, it is entirely controlled by the surgeon, who has excellent visualization, precision, and dexterity.
“We are able to view everything in high-definition 3D through a perfectly steady camera,” said Dr. Sookram. “We can get as close as a few centimeters away from a tiny blood vessel – something that can’t be done with a traditional or laparoscopic procedure.”
3. Recovery time is shorter after robotic surgery.
One of the greatest benefits of a robotic gynecological procedure is the shortened recovery time, often reduced by at least two weeks. For example, a standard recovery following uterine cancer surgery can take 6-8 weeks; with robotic surgery, it’s closer to 4-6 weeks.
This allows patients to get back on their feet – and back to their normal daily routine – a lot quicker, which helps decrease the risk for deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the leg) and pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs), explains Dr. Sookram.
4. Less pain and discomfort are often experienced after robotic surgery.
After a minimally invasive procedure, patients are also likely to experience less bleeding, less pain and general discomfort (and consume fewer narcotics because of this), and less post-operative complications (if any), such as wound infections.
5. Complications with the vaginal cuff (the incision site) are rare, but possible.
The one thing patients should be the most cautious of is their vaginal cuff, where the incision is made, urges Dr. Sookram. “Patients are advised to wait at least 12 weeks (which is slightly longer than the wait time after traditional surgery) post-surgery to resume sexual activity or other behaviors that could disrupt the sutures.”
Following this precaution greatly minimizes the risk for vaginal cuff dehiscence (a rare occurrence when the sutures come undone, allowing abdominal contents to fall through).
However, dehiscence is one of the first risks you will come across when researching robotic gynecological procedures, notes Dr. Sookram. While it was once a larger concern, surgeons have since become much more well-versed in suture methods, and overall rates of dehiscence are extremely low.
6. There is a shortage of gynecologic oncologists; but don’t fret!
Even though gynecologic oncology, as a field, has seen tremendous growth over the past few decades, studies still show a lack of access to care in the Unites States. However, as surgeons such as Dr. Sookram become more proficient in robotic surgery, they’re capable of seeing, treating, and potentially curing more patients each and every day.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a gynecological cancer, keep in mind, your surgeon will only choose robotic surgery if it’s right for you.