Skip to main content

Robotic Thoracic Surgery Reduces Pain, Recovery Time, and Complications

Read Time: 2 minutes

Brian Mitzman, MD looking at screen of Ion machine

When compared with traditional surgical options, robotic assisted thoracic surgery provides many advantages for patients and surgeons. Huntsman Cancer Institute uses the Intuitive da Vinci® Surgical System for minimally invasive advanced lung, esophageal, and mediastinal resections.

What are the benefits of robotic thoracic surgery?

Patients needing thoracic surgery can benefit from a shorter hospital stay, less post-operative pain, smaller incisions, a lower chance of complications, and a decreased risk of mortality with robotic surgery technology.

“With smaller incisions and more delicate maneuvering, patients are having much less pain, to the point that some are not taking narcotic pain medications after surgery,” says John Stringham, MD, thoracic surgeon oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Utah (the U). “It’s been a real revelation. We’re hopefully making surgery better tolerated, so folks are able to get back to being active and living life.”

Robotic thoracic surgery provides several advantages:

  • Improved visualization
  • Finer instrument movements to precisely mimic the human hand
  • Smaller incisions 
  • Decreased risk of conversion to an open procedure (3.6% versus VATS 13%)
  • Better oncologic staging, prognosis, and treatment planning
  • Smaller resections in patients with poor baseline lung function
  • Increased effectiveness with difficult anatomical features like bulky central tumors and adhesions from previous operations

Because of these advantages, this means more complex surgeries can be performed by surgeons due to the robotic instrument’s precision and advanced angles.

What sets Huntsman Cancer Institute apart from other Mountain West health systems?

“What sets us apart is our experience, which allows us to perform very complex surgeries using minimally invasive methods,” says Brian Mitzman, MD, thoracic surgeon oncologist, assistant professor of surgery at the U, and director of robotic thoracic surgery at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “While other health systems use the robot for stage one lung cancer, our experts are able to perform complex surgeries. Also, you may only be seeing one doctor, but you are getting the entire lung cancer team, and their expertise, involved in your care.”

Brian Mitzman, MD scrubbing his hands prior to surgery
Brian Mitzman, MD scrubbing his hands prior to surgery

Huntsman Cancer Institute is the only hospital in the Mountain West with a total-practice robotic thoracic surgery program utilizing the Intuitive da Vinci® Surgical System. The thoracic surgery team has the expertise to treat all types of cancers, including rare cancers. We are also one of the only centers in the country using the Intuitive ION Robotic Assisted Surgical System, which is used to diagnose lung cancers more easily. We have recently been named a national case observation center for thoracic oncology by Intuitive Surgical, due to our experience and optimal outcomes from the da Vinci and ION programs.

What type of thoracic surgeries can be performed using the robot?

Robotic thoracic surgery may be used for a number of procedures:

  • Lung lobectomy
  • Segmentectomy
  • Wedge excisional biopsies
  • Thymectomy
  • Mediastinal mass excisions
  • Esophageal mass excisions
  • Diaphragm plications
  • Select chest wall mass excisions
  • Foregut operations such as paraesophageal hernia repair, fundoplication, Heller myotomy for achalasia

Patients in the Mountain West also benefit from receiving this procedure close to their home. Our patient-centered approach ensures each patient receives individualized care that meets their unique needs and circumstances. We are dedicated to providing patients with the best possible care and better surgical outcomes by using state-of-the-art technology to perform these procedures.

Why should patients get a second opinion?

People who have been diagnosed with any form of cancer can benefit from receiving a second opinion from a doctor at an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, such as Huntsman Cancer Institute. Individuals who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, esophageal cancer, or a chest wall cancer can benefit from seeing one of our thoracic surgeons who specialize in cancer and are specifically trained on the robot. Being treated by a thoracic surgeon oncologist who performs robotic surgery can help patients avoid larger incisions and longer recovery times required by traditional surgical approaches.

What should patients expect after surgery?

Most patients are able to go home the following day, depending on the surgery. Once a patient is discharged, there are very few restrictions. Mitzman tells patients to listen to their bodies. If they feel good, then they can resume a normal routine unless they’re experiencing pain. Typically, patients feel like their normal selves after about two weeks.

Learn more about robotic surgery or refer a patient to Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Cancer touches all of us.