Understanding robotic surgery

Understanding robotic surgery

Robotic tools enhance surgeons’ skills in treating prostate cancer

Learn more about robotic surgery with Dr. Mitchell at a free lecture on April 27 or May 4. Register today.

There’s not a robot yet that can take the place of a surgeon — and I doubt we’ll see one anytime soon. But for many surgical procedures, robots can make a good surgeon even better.

As director of the Robotic Surgery program at Christiana Care, I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is an exciting time to be a surgeon, and robotics are enhancing our ability to provide great care to our patients.

When we talk about robotic surgery, you might imagine a robot out of science fiction — like R2D2 or C3PO from “Star Wars.” But a robotic surgery system bears little resemblance to those iconic androids. Imagine instead a console in which a surgeon looks through a sophisticated digital display and manipulates a series of robotic arms capable of incredibly precise, delicate movements.

What makes robotic surgery so powerful? I’ll give you an example: Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men — and the rate of prostate cancer is higher in Delaware than the U.S. average. Prostatectomy — the surgical removal of the prostate — is the most effective way to treat the cancer. The problem is that the prostate is located deep within the body, where it is surrounded by delicate, high-stakes anatomy: the urethra, which controls urination; neurovascular bundles associated with erection; and the rectum.

Today, about 80 percent of the prostatectomies performed are robotic. At Christiana Care, the rate is 95 percent.

Watch Dr. Mitchell talk about robotic surgery and its advantages:

Robotic surgery increases a surgeon’s ability to access the pelvis and see what is going on inside. The robot can do everything a surgeon’s hand can do — and more. It also allows the surgeon to see fine details with more clarity than the naked eye alone.

There are clear benefits for patients. Robotic surgery requires smaller incisions. There’s less pain. Patients spend less time in the hospital — usually one day, compared to two days after conventional surgery. Men can return to their usual activities sooner.

There’s also less blood loss. It’s now uncommon to transfuse a man having this surgery, where before one in five required blood. And the risk of infection is significantly less.

At Christiana Care Health System, there currently are three DaVinci robots, two at Christiana Hospital and one at Wilmington Hospital. The robots are used in about 100 surgeries each month. That volume is important because when we do surgeries routinely, the outcomes are better.