Robotic hands make light work of surgery

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Copy of ca p10 da Vinci Rhobotic Technology done INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS ONE-MAN TEAM: Urologist Dr Dave Bowden demonstrates the da Vinci robotic system, which will allow prostate cancer surgery to be performed by a single doctor. Picture: Tracey Adams

Cape Town - Prostate cancer surgery, traditionally performed by a team of doctors, can now be done by just one – thanks to new robotic technology which removes cancer cells more precisely without opening a wound to the affected area.

The da Vinci robotic system, which was launched at Netcare Christian Barnard Hospital on Monday, provides for quicker healing and high precision in removing cancerous cells.


While this R21-million machine is widely used in the US and Europe, it is only the third one in South Africa, with two in Gauteng.

Although minimally invasive procedures are already used in the removal of prostate cancer, urologists argue that such operations still require doctors to physically manoeuvre instruments and require a team of doctors and nurses.

With the da Vinci robotic system, a surgeon operates through a few small incisions made close to the affected area, and performs the operation sitting a few metres from the patient. Looking through a console – a magnifying 3D high-definition vision system – the surgeon performs the operation using tiny instruments that bend and rotate more efficiently than the human wrist can.

The magnified images allow the surgeon to see even the tiniest blood vessels. Using controls connected to the laparoscopic instruments inserted through the patient’s stomach, a surgeon can cut, stitch or cauterise the wound with precision.

Urologist Dr Dave Bowden said the technology, which would be used at Chris Barnard for the first time next month, not only resulted in fewer complications and minimal bleeding, but it was expected to cut patients’ hospital stay considerably, and allow doctors to perform more operations.

The technology also gave surgeons the ability to perform more accurate nerve-sparing prostatectomies.

“The result is that patients experience a faster return to normal erectile function. Studies have also shown that patients have improved early outcomes from a urinary continence point of view,” said Bowden.

While conventionally the operation took about five hours, Bowden said that it could take less than two hours as doctors got used to the technology.

The robotic system could also be used for other procedures including nephrectomy, bladder removal, removal of pelvic tumours and hysterectomy, but the hospital would initially use it exclusively for prostate operations. - Cape Argus


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