How Robotic Surgery Has Changed Colorectal Cancer Treatment Dramatically

March 17th, 2021

New medications, better screening tools and improved surgical procedures have changed the way many types of cancer are found and treated in 2021. One of the areas experiencing the most dramatic changes is treatment for colorectal cancer.

Make no mistake, colorectal cancer still remains a serious health concern. The American Cancer Society predicts that more than 6,600 Pennsylvanians will be diagnosed with it this year. About 1 in every 3 people diagnosed (35%) in Pennsylvania are expected to die from colorectal cancer. In addition, the incidence of colorectal cancer is increasing in people under age 50.

Yet hope abounds on many fronts. As we recognize Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March, let’s look at some recent advances.

A steady decline in colorectal cancer incidence rate

“For one, the overall incidence and deaths from colorectal cancer have steadily decreased over the past two decades,” says general and colorectal surgeon Daniel Latta, MD, with Grand View Health Surgery in Sellersville, Pa. Routine screening like colonoscopy and newer tools like Cologuard and other at-home tests help to find colorectal cancer early, when people have the best chance at successful treatment.

And those treatments keep evolving. Latta is among a growing number of doctors nationwide using robotic surgery to remove colorectal cancer. “This technology is a real game-changer,” he says.

How robotics have transformed colorectal cancer treatment

At Grand View Health, Latta uses the da Vinci® XI™ System from Intuitive to perform colorectal cancer procedures. Before robotics, surgeries of the colon and rectum—including colectomy (removal of the colon) and low anterior resection of the rectum—were performed with handheld tools. Surgeons needed to make incisions large enough to allow them to see the entire colon and the rectum.

The da Vinci system allows Latta to perform the same surgeries using a minimally invasive approach. During a colorectal cancer procedure, Latta makes just a few small incisions. He then sits at a console and operates using tiny, wristed instruments that mimic the motion of the human hand. The instruments control long-handled tools with small cameras that give Latta a high-definition, three-dimensional, magnified view inside the body.

According to a 2016 article in the journal Current Oncology Reports, robotic surgery technology has improved surgical performance in colorectal surgery. According to a World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery article published in 2019, wristed instrumentation has also increased the technical ease of anastomosis, the procedure surgeons use to rejoin a patient’s colon or rectum after removing the sections that contain cancer.

Benefits of robotic surgery for colorectal cancer

Patients undergoing robotic procedures often report less post-surgical pain, shorter time spent in the hospital and a quicker return to normal activities. “In addition, patients may experience fewer complications with robotic surgery compared to patients who had open or laparoscopic surgeries,” Latta says.

Learn more about da Vinci robotic surgery at Grand View Health.