As recent as 20 years ago, open operations were the main way to remove colon and rectal tumors. While this method was safe and effective, it involved cutting a large incision through the body to remove the tumor.
So when laparoscopic—or minimally invasive—surgery was developed, it was revolutionary. It allowed surgeons to perform operations using much smaller incisions, thanks to sleek, modern instruments and a miniscule camera that fit inside the body, providing the surgeon with a magnified view of the surgical site.
But since then, minimally invasive surgery has gotten even better. Robotic technology lets the surgeon control several surgical instruments via a single robotic arm while viewing the surgical site on a 3D screen. “The robot has wrist-like movements that are incredibly flexible, making surgery even more precise,” says Shawn Obi, D.O., a general surgeon at Henry Ford Health.
Benefits Of Minimally Invasive Surgery For Colorectal Cancer
Benefits of minimally invasive robotic surgery for colorectal cancer include:
- Less blood loss. “A smaller incision allows for less tissue damage, less blood loss and less stress on the body,” says Dr. Obi.
- A more precise operation. “The technology has finer control,” says Dr. Obi. “Laparoscopic surgery just uses sticks that open and close. And while surgeons are trained to use these tools very well, the robot has a wider range of motion that makes precision easier.”
- Lower risk for complications. A smaller incision means there is a lower risk for complications like hernias and wound infections.
- Faster recovery. Less damage to the tissue means you’ll be out of the hospital faster—at least a day sooner than if you’d had an open operation—and you’ll recover faster, too. You might feel fatigued in the middle of the day, but as long as you take the time to rest, you’ll likely bounce back sooner.
Minimally Invasive Colon Surgery Vs. Rectal Surgery
While minimally invasive robotic surgery can be used to remove both colon and rectal tumors, rectal surgery is more complicated than colon surgery. “Because of our anatomy, the rectum is a difficult, confined space to be working in and surgery is more delicate. It takes more time,” says Dr. Obi.
“Because of that confined space, if you have stage two or three rectal cancer, we’ll often deliver chemotherapy or radiation before surgery. Radiation helps reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in the pelvis and promotes better survival. Chemotherapy helps radiation work better—and can also help control any disease that might have spread outside of the rectum.”
Who Is A Candidate For Minimally Invasive Colorectal Surgery?
Those who have significant congestive heart failure or complex abdominal surgical history may not be great candidates for minimally invasive surgery, but that accounts for a low percentage of people, says Dr. Obi. “If we have a large tumor and a thin patient, we might also opt for an open operation. And we don’t do any type of surgery on stage 4 rectal patients unless they have a blockage of the bowels or a bleeding problem.”
The earlier your cancer is caught, the easier your treatment will likely be—and if you don’t put off screening colonoscopies, your doctor can remove polyps right then and there before they become cancerous, negating the need for surgery altogether.
“A lot of people miss their screening colonoscopy, which is recommended at age 45 for those who are at an average risk of colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Obi. “We know that some polyps turn into cancerous polyps and they can usually be removed during a colonoscopy. It significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer. It’s so important. It's one of those things where you might not have any symptoms, and to find that polyp on a colonoscopy could be lifesaving.”
To learn more about colorectal cancer screening and treatment options at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/coloncancer or call 1-888-777-4167.
Shawn Obi, D.O., F.A.C.S., is the medical director of surgical services at Henry Ford Health - Jackson.