Thirroul’s Stephen Finn this month became the first person to be operated on using Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer hospital’s new surgical robot.
The $4 million robotic-assisted surgical system is the first of its type in the southern hemisphere, and allows procedures to be done through tiny punctures in the skin, rather than large surgical incisions.
For Mr Finn – who required treatment for cancer at the base of his tongue – it has meant that rather than having his jaw and face cut open he’s been able to undergo minimally invasive surgery.
Thanks to the pinpoint accuracy of the robotic surgery, the retired school teacher will not require radiotherapy or chemotherapy for the tongue cancer.
Mr Finn, a grandfather of two, feels fortunate to be the first user of the machine.
‘’It’s far better than being opened up (surgically) and it’s meant far less pain and discomfort,’’ he said. ‘’It’s made a big difference to my rate of recovery and to my future prospects.’’
Mid this year, Mr Finn had noticed an irritation at the site of the tonsillectomy he’d undergone in 2014. When his wife Frances discovered a lump there, he immediately booked in to see his GP.
A biopsy confirmed a cancerous tumour at the site, while a PET scan at Wollongong Hospital revealed the tongue cancer.
Wollongong head and neck surgeon Dr Bruce Ashford surgically removed the neck tumour before referring him to Lifehouse to treat the inaccessible tongue cancer.
‘’While robots have been used in surgery for some time, this is the most recent generation of robot and the most advanced,’’ Dr Ashford said. ‘’It’s also the first of the dual operator robots and works best for really inaccessible tumours, like those down the throat between the voicebox and the mouth.’’
Associate Professors Carsten Palme and Jonathan Clark operated the robot for the surgery on December 3.
‘’Traditionally with complex anatomical regions like this, radical approaches have been required including splitting of the jaw and disassembly of the face to gain access,’’ Prof Palme said.
‘’The robot however allows minimally invasive surgery and, in the case of head and neck surgery, can go through the mouth to access these regions.’’
After 10 days at the Sydney hospital Mr Finn has returned home.
‘’I’ll take the lucky break I’ve been given and enjoy it with my wife of 41 years. And I’ll be able to watch my two little mites, my grandchildren, grow up.’’
Prof Palme said while robotic surgery had been used to treat cancers including prostate, gynaecological and abdominal, this was the first time it had been used for head and neck cancer at Lifehouse.
‘’Chris O’Brien was a head and neck surgeon so It’s a privilege and honour to be the first person to use the robot on a head and neck procedure,’’ he said.