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Robot cuts recovery time

To rid selected patients of tongue and throat cancers, Nepean Hospital has replaced disfiguring facial surgery with robotic surgery that leaves no visible facial scar with most patients going home in days not weeks.

Otolaryngology, Head and Neck surgeon, Associate Professor Ronald Chin says Nepean is the first fully publically funded hospital in NSW to offer the revolutionary procedure which not only saves lives but helps patients maintain their quality of life.

“Without the robot, tongue and throat cancers are among the most difficult tumours to surgically remove,” says Dr Chin.

“Surgeons make a very large incision across the throat - almost from ear to ear - and split the lower jaw at the chin to get to the tumour at the base of the tongue. Skin grafts and plates are needed to help close the large wound and reconstruct the patient’s face.

“It is disfiguring surgery which also requires months of rehabilitation to help patients learn to swallow and talk again. The operation itself and the post-operative rehabilitation is traumatic and difficult for patients and their families,” says Dr Chin.

Using the da Vinci robot at Nepean Hospital, Dr Chin can now simply open the patient’s mouth and direct the robot arms to go inside through the mouth and remove the cancer.

The procedure is called Trans Oral Robotic Surgery or TORS. Clinically suitable patients are given general anaesthetic for TORS which takes about 45 minutes. The previous radical facial surgery technique took around 12 hours.

Before TORS was available, patients could expect to spend 5-7 days in intensive care and around 2-3 weeks in hospital recovering as well as months of rehabilitation.

Patients at Nepean Hospital who receive the TORS procedure are now eating and drinking just 24 hours after the cancer is removed and home in two days.

Dr Ronald Chin and Brian with the robot 

Dr Ronald Chin and Brian with the robot

When a large tumour was found at the base of Brian Hodge’s tongue he was preparing for the worst. He had already had radiation therapy for other head and neck cancers which made his skin and muscle particularly difficult for a surgeon to work with.

The prognosis for recovery from invasive facial surgery was not good.

“When Dr Chin said we’ll use the robot instead of having your face cut open, I said ‘let’s do it’,” says Brian.

“I was home in two days. No scars. It was just such a great feeling to wake up and not have your face cut open because they used the robot.”

Brian can eat, drink, swallow and talk. He’s even ready to sing Karaoke again just weeks after the procedure.

Life is returning to normal.

Something that would have been impossible without Nepean Hospital’s robot and the skill of Dr Chin and his team.

“We are here to provide the best possible service to our patients and that includes doing our best to maintain their quality of life,” says Dr Chin.

“I’m very honoured to be able to offer the robotic procedure to our patients and proud that Nepean Hospital is delivering a world class service.”


16 July 2017

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