A leap forward in robotic surgery for head and neck cancer

da Vinci SP surgical robot
Image courtesy of Intuitive Surgical.

Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), a member of Dartmouth Health, becomes the first hospital in the region to use the da Vinci SP robotic surgery platform for head and neck cancers. The SP, or single port, means that the micro-instruments are bundled into a single tube that enables surgeons to perform complicated surgeries with minimal intrusion to tissue surrounding the area of the tumor.  

“It’s a game changer for us,” said Joseph A. Paydarfar, MD, who heads the Otolaryngology, Audiology and Maxillofacial Surgery section at DHMC and is a member of the Head & Neck Cancer Program at Dartmouth Cancer Center. “This system will increase surgical options for patients with benign and malignant tumors of the throat and potentially reduce or eliminate the need for other treatments.” Paydarfar, also an associate professor of surgery at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, has been performing robotic surgeries since 2010.

To reach some tumors in the throat, the traditional surgical approach would be through the neck or, in some cases, to divide the jaw bone and move it out of the way. This traditional approach increases the complexity of the operation, complication risk, and length of hospitalization.  

Using the da Vinci SP system enables Paydarfar to reach a throat tumor by threading the single tube, or cannula, through the mouth down to the tumor. This reduces by one-half to one-fourth the duration of the surgery, shrinks the size of the surgical team, and, most importantly, can reduce the hospital stay for the patient from 10 days to 2 weeks down to three to four days. The process is more precise and much less invasive for the patient.

Instead of standing over the patient, the surgeon sits at a console next to the patient, using precise controllers to manipulate two tiny instruments while viewing the surgical area through a high-definition magnified camera. The tiny instruments move like a human hand but with a far greater range of motion.

“DHMC is the only hospital in the region to offer this new and unique robotic system to enhance the treatment of head and neck cancer,” said Stacey M. Cosco, DNP, DHMC’s Vice President for Perioperative and Surgical Services. “This new capability will allow our patients to receive care close to home and decrease their recovery time from surgery.”