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SLU Hospital first in region to offer ‘flexible’ robotic surgery

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ST. LOUIS, MO – SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital is first in the region offering a new “flexible” robotic surgery system, allowing surgeons access to areas of the body they previously were unable to reach without large incisions.

By using the Flex® Robotic System, SLUCare surgeons are able to perform less invasive surgery for patients with head and neck or colorectal cancers.

For example, for those with laryngeal cancers, surgeons can insert a single, fully flexible robotic arm into the mouth and control the machine with a joystick-like device. The wider range of motion allows for access to tumors previously unreachable without an open incision.

Often, these surgeries require a long incision in the neck and possibly require follow up reconstruction. They also may require extensive rehabilitation with difficulty regaining full function.

“This less invasive approach allows me to access some head and neck cancers without opening up the body for a clear line of sight,” says Greg Ward, MD, SLUCare otolaryngologist at SLU Hospital. “This technology allows for shorter hospitalizations and quicker recovery.”

In fact, in a multicenter, retrospective review documenting the initial transoral surgery experience using the Flex system in the November 2018 issue of Head & Neck, researchers found “there were no intraoperative or immediate postoperative complications, with no cases of intraoperative hemorrhage.”

While robotic surgery has been used by surgeons – including those at SLU Hospital – for some time, procedures typically performed are for urologic cases or issues in the abdomen and chest. As three robotic arms are inserted into the body through small incisions – allowing for a camera and two surgical hands at the end of the robot’s arms – that allows for access straight at the medical issue. This is a different approach. By using the body’s natural orifices, there is no incision. In addition, for the head and neck, structures are smaller and flexibility with these tools are considered an advantage. Similarly, for some colorectal cancers, surgeons can offer this new less, invasive alternative to access areas previous surgical robots were not designed for.

“I can operate on anatomical locations that were previously difficult or impossible to reach minimally invasively,” says Dr. Ward. “This is a significant advance.”

To learn more about the Flex Robotic System.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Wednesday at 7 pm on KPLR News 11 and at 9 pm on KTVI Fox 2 News.​

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