Woonona's Emma Wallace never imagined she'd be a candidate for robotic surgery - but that was before she discovered a suspicious growth on her tonsils.
Last month the 35-year-old became the first patient to undergo a head and neck procedure with the help of the da Vinci Xi Surgical System at Wollongong Private Hospital.
Since the installation of the state-of-the-art system at the hospital just over 12 months ago, it's conducted hundreds of urology, colorectal and gynaecological procedures.
Now it's an option for patients with malignant, or benign, tumours of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils - where traditional surgery can be brutal.
Wollongong head and neck surgeon Dr Stephen Pearson said the robotic system was far less invasive in these hard-to-reach areas.
"Robotic surgery can be used to access cancers within an area called the oropharynx - which includes the tongue base, tonsils and soft palate," he said.
"Traditional surgery in this area can be extremely invasive, requiring a large incision up the neck, the splitting of the lip and splitting of the jaw bone which then needs to be swung out to the side to access the tumour.
"The minimally invasive robotic system improves surgical access and vision, which in turn leads to less complications and shorter recovery periods."
By increasing the chance of successfully removing all of the tumour, the system could also negate the need for further surgery or other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Dr Pearson underwent extensive training to use the da Vinci system - which enables him to steer the robotic arms with infinite precision while sitting in a console in the operating theatre.
"The robot doesn't do the work, I do the work using the robot as the interface," he said.
Since the June 1 surgery on Ms Wallace, he's used the system for different head and neck procedures on five other private patients. He's also planning to lobby the public health system to fund the surgery for eligible public patients.
"TORS (transoral robotic surgery) is most suitable for patients with early stage tumours, T1 and T2 cases," he said. "It can also be used to remove benign tumours, for complex tonsil cases and even for sleep apnoea."
For Ms Wallace, the news was good with tests confirming the growth on her tonsils was not cancerous.
"It was a major decision to get robotic surgery but surgeons can see and do a lot more using the system, and I've recovered well and the tests have come back all clear," she said.
"It's actually been a lifechanger as my tonsils were enlarged so I had a tonsillectomy at the same time, and now I'm sleeping better and breathing easier."
Dr Pearson said he expected demand to increase, with a rising number of Australians being diagnosed with head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus.
"Whereas traditionally head and neck cancer patients were older, and smokers, we're starting to see younger, healthier people getting these cancers," he said.