New Robotic Surgery Treats Hard-to-Reach Cancers

More effective treatment for head and throat cancers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's such a small and delicate area that traditional surgical methods have had difficulty even getting to the spot in the throat. But a team of head and neck surgeons from the Mayo Clinic have found that robotic surgery is quite effective.

Robotic surgery has become a common tool for removing an ever-increasing variety of head and neck tumors. Now, the team from Mayo Clinic has found robot technology can be used to treat cancer in the narrow, hard-to-reach area beyond the tongue at the top of the voice box.

Some patients are able to avoid further treatment with chemotherapy or radiation, and most could resume normal eating and speaking.

“We’ve known it’s useful for tongue base and tonsil cancers, but we wanted to assess its effectiveness in the larynx,” says Kerry Olsen, M.D., Mayo Clinic otolaryngologist and senior author of the study.

"Robotic surgery works for treating throat cancers."

With transoral robotic surgery (TORS), the robotic arms that enter the mouth include a thin camera, an arm with a laser, and an arm with a gripping tool to retract and grasp tissue. The surgeon controls the instruments while sitting at a console and viewing the three-dimensional surgical field on a screen.

“The camera improves visibility,” Dr. Olsen says. “We also gain the ability to maneuver and see around corners and into tight spaces, and we believe we’ll now be able to take out more throat tumors than with traditional approaches of the past.”

“We were pleased with the cancer outcomes,” Dr. Olsen says. “We also found patients had minimal trouble after surgery, in most cases resuming normal eating, swallowing and speaking.”

Cancers of the tongue and throat are on the rise. Not all patients will be candidates for robotic surgery; its use will depend on the structure of a patient’s throat and neck, along with the type and extent of the tumor.

“What we know from this study is that for larynx cancer, we have another effective surgical tool available to us,” he says. “We can further tailor the cancer treatment for each patient and provide individualized care.”

The Study

  • Investigation followed 9 people with supraglottic squamous cell carcinoma, which affects the area of the larynx above the vocal cords
  • Patients also underwent the surgical removal of their adjacent neck nodes at the same operation
  • Patients followed for up to three years
  • Most participants had advanced-stage disease
  • Study undertaken to find if robotic surgery better at reaching area
  • TORS effectively removed cancer, with “clean,” disease-free margins
  • TORS easier to perform than the approach of transoral laser microsurgery via a laryngoscope
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 29, 2011
Last Updated:
May 1, 2011