October 5, 2022

A brand new sort of robotic surgical procedure for head and neck cancers is boosting survival charges. 

Professor Michael Thick, 71, a former transplant surgeon (and chief medical officer of the NHS Nationwide Programme for IT) tells Angela Epstein the way it saved his life.

The affected person 

After discovering a big lump (about 3cm) on the left facet of my neck in 2009, I used to be recognized with oropharyngeal most cancers.

It was a daunting discovery — as a health care provider who’d labored on a head and neck most cancers ward within the early a part of my coaching, I had seen sufferers bear radical surgical procedure to take away tumours which induced horrible, usually deadly, bleeding.

Issues had moved on, however I nonetheless confronted the trauma of surgical procedure, adopted by every day radiotherapy for six weeks and three rounds of chemotherapy.

It took its toll on my well being — the radiotherapy impacted on my lung perform, I misplaced plenty of weight and my restoration was sluggish. It took over a yr to return to work. After I did lastly return, I hoped, after all, that I’d been cured. However I additionally knew there was an opportunity the most cancers might return, as occurs with as much as 60 per cent of head and neck cancers.

So in 2018, once I observed that my tongue felt painful when swallowing and that the floor felt a bit uneven, warning bells rang in my head.

Professor Michael Thick, 71, a former transplant surgeon (and chief medical officer of the NHS Nationwide Programme for IT) tells Angela Epstein the way it saved his life

Exams revealed a 2cm tumour which, contemplating the tongue base is slightly below 5cm, was substantial. I used to be terrified.

Typical tongue most cancers surgical procedure is brutal and includes splitting the jaw to succeed in the tumour, adopted by main facial reconstruction. However then I used to be provided the chance to have a pioneering robotic process on the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Tumours within the neck or throat are sometimes unattainable for surgeons to entry correctly by the mouth utilizing hand-held surgical instruments.

Consequently, typical open surgical procedure means reducing by massive areas of pores and skin, muscle and bone — usually leading to a scar working from the underside lip all the way in which all the way down to the throat.

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However robot-assisted surgical procedure, utilizing the Da Vinci robotic, is carried out by the open mouth — without having for any incisions or stitches — utilizing tiny devices on the tip of a robotic’s three lengthy, skinny arms.

These are operated remotely by a surgeon on the opposite facet of the room and supply a degree of precision not doable with the human hand alone.

As a former liver transplant surgeon, I knew of improvements in robotic surgical procedure and its many advantages, not least the lowered restoration time and decreased probability of an infection, bleeding and problems since there was no want to separate the jaw or have facial reconstruction.

I didn’t hesitate to take up the supply, particularly because it additionally meant not having to bear radiotherapy or chemotherapy this time.

Following a flurry of CT scans to pinpoint the precise location of the tumour, I had the operation in July 2018.

Afterwards I did have a whispery voice, and couldn’t eat or drink something for a few days; after just a few extra days I used to be in a position to go dwelling.

My spouse Catherine was great, making me mashed or blended meals. I used to be sore at first however progressed on to ‘regular’ meals after about three months. My speech returned shortly, too, and shortly I used to be doing public talking once more.

Now, I’m again to residing a full and busy life, which incorporates, in my spare time, flying, crusing and bee-keeping.

My solely actual adaptation is to by no means eat greater than two programs — I take longer than most individuals to eat simply because it takes time to get all of it down.

The radiation remedy from my first most cancers induced long-term scarring and mouth dryness. However I’m cancer-free and really feel implausible.

Having had each sorts of operation, I’m grateful for this new know-how and the ability of the crew. It’s because of them I’m right here at the moment, having fun with the great feeling of normality.

The surgeon 

Professor Vinidh Paleri is a guide head and neck surgeon at The Royal Marsden NHS Basis Belief in London.

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Head and neck most cancers is an umbrella time period for tumours of the nostril, mouth, throat, voice field and thyroid in addition to salivary glands.

It has historically been handled with radical and probably disfiguring surgical procedure, and a few sufferers present process such invasive operations can danger shedding the flexibility to speak, eat or style.

That’s why transoral robotic surgical procedure (TORS) is such an innovation for cancers of the mouth and throat.

A minimally invasive method, launched in 2013, it offers sufferers with recurrent most cancers of the mouth and throat a greater probability of survival. A brand new research by the Royal Marsden confirmed that they had a two-year survival fee of 72 per cent, in contrast with a mean of 52 per cent with open surgical procedure.

What’s extra, because it avoids reducing by the neck and different tissues, in addition to splitting the jaw, to get to the most cancers, it’s a lot shorter and fewer more likely to have an effect on the affected person’s capacity to talk and eat.

With the affected person underneath a normal anaesthetic, we expose the most cancers utilizing specialised mouth gags to carry the mouth open.

Head and neck cancer is an umbrella term for tumours of the nose, mouth, throat, voice box and thyroid as well as salivary glands. It has traditionally been treated with radical and potentially disfiguring surgery, and some patients undergoing such invasive operations can risk losing the ability to talk, eat or taste. A stock image is used above

Head and neck most cancers is an umbrella time period for tumours of the nostril, mouth, throat, voice field and thyroid in addition to salivary glands. It has historically been handled with radical and probably disfiguring surgical procedure, and a few sufferers present process such invasive operations can danger shedding the flexibility to speak, eat or style. A inventory picture is used above

I sit at a console within the working theatre, six toes from the affected person, and use my arms and toes to information the gadget by the mouth to the most cancers.

The robotic has three arms: one holds a 3D digicam contained in the affected person’s mouth, which supplies a great view of the world (the tumour’s location has been pinpointed by scans); the others maintain tiny devices, one for reducing out the most cancers and one for cauterising (sealing) the wound.

I transfer these arms, based mostly on what I see on my display from the digicam, bending and rotating them to hold out the surgical procedure.

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In Michael’s case, I then used the tiny electrical knife on the finish of one of many arms to chop out the tumour in addition to a 5mm margin of tissue in case any cancerous cells had began to unfold into close by tissue.

As soon as I’d minimize the tumour from the tongue it dropped into the throat — however because the affected person was mendacity flat and never swallowing whereas underneath anaesthetic, it didn’t go down the throat.

My assistant, who had been standing by Michael in the course of the op, pulled it out with forceps.

Then I used one other arm with a tiny probe on the tip that generated an electrical present to cauterise the blood vessels which had been dissected.

With typical surgical procedure on this a part of the physique, there may be plenty of bleeding that may trigger issues if blood leaks into the lungs. Important blood loss may impair coronary heart perform. However the robotic surgical procedure meant there was no want for stitches because the tumour merely left a small dimple within the tongue, which can heal inside three months. If it does have an effect on speaking, it is going to achieve this to a a lot lesser extent than conventional surgical procedure.

As an extra precaution in opposition to bleeding, I additionally make a 1in minimize in a single facet of the neck firstly of the operation and (completely) tie up a few the blood vessels that offer the tongue, utilizing small clips. The tongue can simply survive with blood from the alternative facet.

TORS is a wonderful possibility for early-stage recurrent cancers of the tonsils or again of the tongue — with later-stage illness the tumour can be bigger and there’s a better danger of bleeding and problems.

However for a lot of, it will probably enhance high quality of life as a result of it received’t have an effect on speech or the flexibility to eat. I’m thrilled Michael has returned to his busy life so shortly and am glad we are able to supply sufferers this various.