Robotic arms to cure pancreatic cancer

The stereoscopic vision and dexterity offered by robotic Wipple surgery enable easy reconstruction even in challenging cases

Robotic arms to cure pancreatic cancer

Bhim Rao, a retired government officer from Karnataka, is relieved man today as he has been cured of pancreatic cancer by a team of doctors at Narayana Health City, Bengaluru. The 71-year-old retired police officer was treated using the robotic Whipple procedure.

Rao was leading a peaceful retired life. However, a few months ago he started getting abdominal pain. As his pain did not subside despite medication and he started developing jaundice and demonstrated weight loss as well as loss of appetite, he was referred to Narayana Health City. He was admitted under Dr Ashwinikumar Kudari, Senior Consultant – Surgical Gastroenterology & Robotic Surgeon, and his team. Upon diagnosis, it was found that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most dreadful conditions wherein the prognosis depends on early diagnosis and treatment. The 5 years survival rate is just 20-25%. However, if identified early, it can be treated and cured. Fortunately for Rao, the tumour was identified at an early stage. Further, the tumour was confined to the head of the pancreas. Since it was localized and not spread into major blood vessels nearby, liver, lungs or abdominal cavity, doctors suggested Whipple surgery.

Though Whipple surgery is the most effective mode of treatment for pancreatic cancer, it is a complex procedure, especially open Whipple surgery, which is a high-risk procedure. The operation is generally associated with a mortality rate of around 5%. The post-operative complications of this procedure are as high as 40%. As the patient was old and has diabetes as well as borderline obesity, doctors recommended him to undergo a robotic Whipple surgery. The surgery was performed successfully, and he has been cured of pancreatic cancer.

The technically demanding surgery was performed by a team of doctors comprising of Dr Kudari, Dr Jayant Mulchandani and Dr Mohammed Shies Sadat. Elaborating on the case, Dr Kudari said, “The case of Bhim Rao was a challenging one as the patient was old and obese with a non-dilated ductal system with soft pancreas. In such circumstances, reconstruction can be difficult. However, with the stereoscopic vision and dexterity and stability of robotic arms, we were able to perform the reconstruction successfully and easily.”

“Unlike conventional open surgeries, the quality of reconstruction using the robotic method is far higher. The 360-degree rotation offered by the robotic arm assists in better suturing. The precision that it offers is also a great aid in ensuring superior outcomes. Further, as it is minimally invasive, only small incisions are made, which in turn leads to a faster recovery, minimal loss of blood, a low rate of complications and a short hospital stay. As the wound is small, the requirement for antibiotics as well as pain killers is also far lower,” he added  

The surgery took around 6 hours and the patient was discharged within eight days of the surgery.

Expressing his joy, Rao, said, “I was shattered when I got to know that I am suffering from cancer. I had lost all hope and in fact, I was dreading about the kind of financial burden my family will have to go through because of me. However, the team at Narayana Health City was very kind. They not only treated me with the best modality, they even guided my family with regard to the financials. The surgery was performed under the JSS scheme.”

With this case study, Narayana Health City becomes one of the few hospitals in the country to have performed a significant number of robotic Whipple surgeries. The robotic department is supported by Infosys Foundation. Narayana Health City has performed 27 robotic Whipple procedure since the inception of its robotic department, the highest for any centre in the country.

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