How patients can benefit from thoracic robotic surgery

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center

There have been numerous advancements when it comes to surgery on the thorax — the part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. And the advancements in robotics have served to improve the experience for both patients and surgeons.

Dr. John Lazar, director of Thoracic Robotics at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said robotic technology is being used for cancerous and non cancerous thoracic surgeries such as paraesophageal hernias and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Also, it is used to treat lung conditions such as lung cancer.

When surgeons perform a robotically-assisted surgery, it means that the surgeon still controls the robotic technology, which includes an arm with surgical instruments attached as well as a camera. Nothing is automated, Dr. Lazar said.

With this type of procedure, surgeons can get a better visualization of the impacted area and are able to manipulate smaller, hard-to-reach areas with better precision, he added.

“For the surgeon, we are able to get into smaller places, we are able to visualize things in 3D as opposed to on a flat screen TV, which is the way we do in a traditional minimally invasive surgery. And this allows us to perform more highly technical procedures in a smaller space.”

Robotic surgery can help patients have quicker recoveries, less pain, smaller incisions and a lower risk of infection, Dr. Lazar said.

“It’s minimally invasive, and instead of instruments grinding back and forth, they go through a port, and so there’s only one small area where the port is touching the skin. Generally we find that there is less pain afterwards,” Dr. Lazar said. “People are able to get back to their daily lives quicker.”

With an open surgery, patients sometimes have to spend up to five days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). A patient who underwent a robotic procedure can spend fewer days or may not need to go to the ICU at all, Dr. Lazar said. After a robotic procedure, patients are about 90 percent better by 10-14 days after the surgery, he said.

“If you’re able to get a minimally invasive procedure, patients usually do better quicker. Over the long term, they do just about the same,” Dr. Lazar said.

There are many signs that may indicate the need for thoracic robotic surgery. Dr. Lazar said pain is the most frequent complaint he gets from patients when there are esophagus or stomach conditions. Also, weight loss and fatigue are common.

Age or background is not always a factor when it comes to a patient’s risk for thoracic ailments. The youngest people he has seen are in their 30s and the oldest are in their 90s, he said. Also, people from all over the world contract such conditions, he added.

“This can happen to anybody at any age because it’s just the weakening of the muscle lining,” Dr. Lazar said.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers a group of outstanding surgeons who work across multiple disciplines, Dr. Lazar said, making it an excellent option for those who need thoracic surgery.

“They have a great deal of experience, they’ve been doing this for many years, they’ve gone through their learning curves already and they are able to offer patients an advanced level of robotic care at the cutting edge,” he said.

MedStar’s team is looking into the future as well, researching new advancements in the field. It’s looking to become one of the first centers to robotically repair trachea bronchial malacia — the weakening of the windpipe that connects the mouth to the lungs. It’s still being studied, but surgeons are always working to get the best outcomes for their patients, Dr. Lazar said.

“Now we can reinforce that integrity of the trachea and allow them to have a much better quality of life and not feel continuously short of breath.”

Read more about thoracic robotic surgery and listen to a podcast with Dr. Lazar here.

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