Robotic surgery for pancreatic cancer

Imagine a world where robots help perform surgery.

It may sound like something out of science fiction, but the truth is that robotic surgery is available for people with pancreatic cancer today. This innovative approach to pancreatic surgery provides many benefits for patients, including less pain and a faster recovery.

Traditional Whipple Surgery

For about 20 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer, doctors may recommend a procedure known as Whipple surgery. Also known as pancreatoduodenectomy, Whipple surgery removes the head, or right-hand portion, of the pancreas, where most tumors occur.

Because of the location of this organ, surgeons also remove:

  • Parts of the small intestine
  • Gallbladder
  • Bile duct
  • Sometimes, a portion of the stomach

Whipple surgery may help extend life, but it is invasive and involves a large incision in the abdomen. Traditional Whipple surgery is also quite complex and requires you to remain in the hospital for a week to 10 days afterward.

RELATED: Whipple Surgery: What You Need to Know

A Robotic Approach to Whipple Surgery

In just the last few years, a new option became available for people with pancreatic cancer: robotic Whipple surgery.

This minimally invasive procedure is similar to laparoscopic Whipple surgery but employs robotic technology to improve accuracy. In this type of pancreatic surgery, your surgeon will:

  • Make several small incisions in your abdomen
  • Insert surgical instruments — including one that accommodates a miniature camera through them

A robotic device called the da Vinci Surgical System helps guide the instruments, allowing them to move more nimbly and precisely than a human hand. The miniature camera broadcasts three-dimensional images onto a large high-definition screen. This gives your surgical team a unique view of your abdomen that can’t be seen by just the naked eye.

RELATED: What to Expect After Pancreatic Surgery

Benefits of Robotic Whiple Surgery

The advantages of robotic Whipple surgery for surgeons are clear. But how can this procedure help patients? Because robotic surgery is much less invasive than traditional surgery, it has a number of benefits. These include:

  • Less pain: Robotic surgery involves smaller incisions than traditional surgery.
  • Faster recovery and shorter hospital stays: People who undergo minimally invasive procedures such as robotic surgery typically leave the hospital in as early as five days and on average eight days, compared to 10 to 14 days with traditional Whipple surgery.
  • Less scarring: Small incisions mean less chance for lasting scars.

If you’re eligible for surgery, your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits of traditional versus robotic Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Preparing for your Whipple surgery? Learn about what to expect after pancreatic surgery.

If you or a loved one have pancreatic cancer, you undoubtedly have questions. Learn more about advances in the field of oncology and cancer treatments. Visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center online today.