Robotic Technique May Revolutionize Thyroid Surgery

The technique that changed gynecologic and urologic surgery for the better may now provide a new option for thyroid surgery with minimal scarring.

The work of surgeons at the Medical College of Georgia with robots that revolutionized gynecologic and urologic surgical procedures within the past decade may now offer patients with a diseased thyroid gland a new option for scarless surgery.

Dr. David Terris, professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and his colleagues from MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas A & M Health Science Center, report that the daVinci Surgical System reduced the size of neck incisions from several inches to less than an inch. The daVinci system allows surgeons sitting at a console to maneuver through tight spaces and around corners. Surgeons using the system accessed the thyroid gland through a two-to-three inch incision the armpit.

"The robot is what makes it possible to easily — and safely – do the work from that distance," Terris said. "It's a long way down a big tunnel to get to that thyroid through the armpit that would not be possible without telescopes and long instruments.”

According to the researchers, Korean surgeons have the most experience performing robotic thyroidectomy in humans and are currently using the technique to remove both lobes of the thyroid. Terris believes that improving technology will lead to more people accepting the procedure, “where robotics in other medical procedures are already common.”

Writing in Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, the researchers report that the minimal scar the procedure leaves has resulted in cosmetic, quality of life, and functional improvements.

According to Terris, trim patients with benign disease who only need half of their two-lobed thyroid gland removed are ideal candidates for the surgery.

"In my opinion, if you are committed to not having a neck scar, this is the best way to do it," he said.

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