Wilmot Surgeons Introduce Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery

Robot Enhances Surgeries for Oral, Head, Neck Cancers

James P. Wilmot Cancer Center surgeons are first in upstate New York to incorporate the precision and dexterity of a surgical robot to remove cancerous tumors in the mouth and throat. The first transoral robotic procedure – a partial glossectomy, or removal of a tumor at the base of the tongue -- was performed by surgeon Matthew Miller, M.D., expanding the robot-assisted surgery capabilities for people with head and neck cancers.

George Maines of North Greece is grateful for the Medical Center’s commitment to advancing technology and care. The surgery was less invasive and the recovery faster than he imagined when he learned of the cancer at the base of his tongue. He says “people were amazed at how quickly I was able to recover and bounce back.”

“Traditional approaches to these tumors have the potential to be invasive and disfiguring – oftentimes leading to an extensive recovery and rehabilitation period,” says Miller, a fellowship-trained head and neck cancer surgeon who joined the team last Fall, along with Paul van der Sloot, M.D. “The robot allows us to limit or even eliminate some of the side effects associated with more invasive surgeries while still effectively treating the cancer.”

Using the high-tech robotic system, surgeons insert the slender instruments into the mouth to reach the base of the tongue, tonsils, oropharynx and throat. The benefits for patients, like Maines, are dramatic because the surgeries can be done, primarily, without incisions and offer faster recovery time and a reduced risk of infection or other complications.   

Maines didn’t expect a cancer diagnosis when he pointed out a lump on his neck to his doctor. It was a 2-inch tumor in a lymph node and doctors suspected it had spread from someplace else. Further investigation showed another tumor on the base of his tongue, the primary source of the cancer.

The Wilmot Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary head and neck cancer team reviewed Maines’ scans and test results and determined that surgery followed by radiation therapy would be the best way to treat the disease.  Miller removed the tumor from his tongue using the robotic system and then made a small incision on his neck to remove the cancerous lymph nodes.

His care continued with intensity-modulated radiation therapy using Tomotherapy, which also allows daily image guided radiation therapy and adaptive radiation therapy with great precision, a key treatment for these cancers. This technique allows for the radiation dose to conform to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor. Doctors can also deliver stronger doses to specific areas of the tumor.

Radiation oncologist Deepinder Singh, M.D., prescribed 33 days of treatment, using the Tomotherapy Hi-Art System, which is only available at the Wilmot Cancer Center.

Mr. Maines is an amazing gentleman who has done extremely well following his robotic surgery and post-operative radiation treatment to his base of the tongue and neck nodes areas,” Singh says.  “He’s tolerated his radiation treatment very well and we’re pleased to see success for him.”


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