Robotic-Assisted Lung Lobectomy

At Siteman Cancer Center, some lung cancer patients have the option to undergo minimally invasive, robotic-assisted lobectomies. During a robotic-assisted lobectomy, a surgeon removes a diseased or cancerous lobe of the lung using robotic technology.

The robot is actually a system of three to four mechanical arms that hold and manipulate the surgical instruments. It acts as a helper and a tool that allows the surgeon to work delicately inside the body.

Because robotic tools enable surgeons to perform complex procedures in small spaces, robotic-assisted surgery is conducted through a number of small incisions, rather than a single large one. This means that patients who receive robotic-assisted lobectomies also tend to leave the hospital earlier, recover more quickly, and experience less pain than patients treated with traditional, open procedures. Your physicians will let you know if a robotic lobectomy is right for you.

The thoracic surgeons at Siteman are unparalleled in our region for the breadth and depth of their experience. They perform 150 lobectomies a year and use minimally invasive techniques, including robotic assistance, whenever possible. This winning combination of experience and technology keeps our patients safe and leads to successful outcomes.

How is the procedure done?

First, several small incisions are made in the patient’s chest. The incisions are usually less than an inch long, although one may be slightly bigger to remove the lung tissue at the end of the procedure. The robotic arms are guided into these incisions.

Then, the surgeon sits down at a special console where he or she conducts the procedure. The console is equipped with a screen and controls shaped like actual surgical instruments. Using a camera, the robotic arms transmit 3-D images from inside the body to the screen, so the surgeon can zoom in on tiny features of organs and tissues with far greater accuracy than the human eye. Such enhanced visibility lowers the risk of complications.

The robotic arms can move as flexibly as the human hand and wrist, and the surgeon manipulates them from the console by moving the controls.

There are a number of other medical professionals in the operating room in addition to the lead surgeon. A second surgeon stands at the patient’s bedside, monitoring the patient and assisting the lead surgeon. The room is also staffed with trained operating room nurses, as well as a nurse who specializes in working with robotic technology.

After the surgery, patients tend to recover more quickly than they do following traditional, open lobectomies. The robotic tools do not disrupt the muscles of the chest wall or the ribs, which can lead to less pain following the procedure. Because the operation has a lower impact on the body, patients can usually have their chest tubes removed earlier. Hospital stays are typically shorter: patients who undergo open lobectomies usually leave the hospital after five days, while patients who receive minimally-invasive or robotic procedures leave after four days or less.

What are the benefits of a robotic-assisted lobectomy?

Robotic-assisted lobectomies often enhance a patient’s comfort and well-being. Common benefits include:

  • Fewer days in the hospital
  • A shorter recovery time
  • Less pain
  • Minimized blood loss
  • A lower risk of complications

Robotic technology has also allowed patients who otherwise might not have been eligible for a minimally-invasive procedure to receive one.

In addition, there is some evidence that robotic lobectomies may have a positive impact on overall patient outcomes. The technology can visualize the inside of the body to a greater degree than the human eye, which helps physicians remove more lymph nodes and stage a patient’s cancer more accurately. This can lead to more precise and effective treatments.

Which patients are good candidates for the procedure?

Patients tend to be eligible for a robotic-assisted lobectomy if their tumor is located near the outside of their lung and is not attached to blood vessels. Tumors attached to blood vessels are more safely removed with open procedures.

What are the risks of a robotic-assisted lobectomy?

A robotic-assisted lobectomy is less risky than an open lobectomy, but there are still a few complications that patients should be aware of, such as:

  • Blood loss
  • Infection
  • Trouble breathing
  • Collapsed lung

There’s also a chance that surgeons might have to transition from a minimally-invasive robotic procedure to an open procedure mid-operation, depending on what they find. Our surgeons will only switch to an open procedure if it is the best and safest option for the patient.

Why should I have a robotic-assisted lobectomy at Siteman Cancer Center?

At Siteman Cancer Center, we have some of the best lung surgeons in the nation. A robot is only as good as the surgeon controlling it, and our surgeons are renowned for their skill, expertise, and good judgment. Other facilities may offer robotic technology in the operating room, but they are not staffed by Siteman surgeons.