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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with rectal cancer, you may wonder what your treatment options are. As for any cancer of the digestive tract, having surgery to remove the tumor is ideal. If a surgeon is able to take out all of the cancer, a patient will be cured.
However, when it comes to rectal surgery, there are other considerations besides simply cutting out a tumor. In the past, after surgery patients would have a permanent ostomy – a hole at the end of the colon that emptied through the abdomen. Rather than being able to void naturally, patients would need an external colostomy bag to collect stool.
A Better Option for Rectal Center – Sphincter-Preserving Surgery
“We work very hard to allow for natural function after surgery,” says Allen Chudzinski, MD, FACS, FASCRS, colon and rectal surgeon at the Digestive Institute. He says that after the rectal cancer is removed, patients might need an ostomy – although depending on a patient’s desires and lifestyle factors, there’s a good chance this can be temporary.
Sometimes sphincter-preserving surgery is called “J-pouch surgery” because the procedure creates a pouch shaped like the letter J to hold stool. This pouch will work much like the removed rectum once did. After healing from this initial surgery, patients have a second operation that restores the natural digestive tract.
Patients with cancer tumors lower in the digestive tract have an increased chance for needing an ostomy, but Dr. Chudzinski says even this can be temporary. He stresses that he and his fellow colon and rectal surgeon Hanne Massarotti, MD, FACS, strive to leave patients with the strong pelvic muscles.
“Because of the excellent visualization of the surgical robot, we can see the fibers of the muscle and make sure that we don’t make incisions that would compromise them too much,” he continues.
The Surgical Robot Provides Improved Outcomes and Faster Recoveries
Surgical robot – you read that right. Dr. Chudzinski and Dr. Massarotti, use the da Vinci® Surgical System for most of the rectal operations they perform. Robotic surgery allows them to offer minimally invasive procedures that result in less pain, lower rates of surgical complications, and speedier recoveries.
“You can get back to normalcy faster after robotic surgery,” says Dr. Chudzinski. This approach gives patients the benefits of avoiding the large pelvic incision needed for an open operation. Studies show that surgical outcomes are about the same for minimally invasive laparoscopic colon and rectal surgery as with open surgery. However, now that robotic surgery has advanced to where it can be used for colon and rectal operations, it appears to be an even better approach for patients.
“With the surgical robot, we can use smaller instruments, which move the internal tissues a lot less,” Dr. Chudzinski says. “Because this creates less trauma, the body has less of an inflammatory response, and patients feel better sooner after surgery.”
Other reasons why robotic surgery is the superior approach is that the robot’s camera gives surgeons a magnified, three-dimensional view of the surgical site. Because the robot can seamlessly translate the surgeon’s movements at a very small scale, the technology allows for operations located low in the pelvis, such as for rectal cancer.
“The results are a shorter hospital stay with low pain scores, and patients leave the hospital eating a regular diet,” says Dr. Chudzinski.
A High-Volume Robotic Surgery Center for Colon and Rectal Cancer
Dr. Chudzinski also points out that when it comes to robotic surgery, experience counts. Annually, he and Dr. Massarotti each perform hundreds of colon and rectal operations with the surgical robot. They are equipped to offer this ideal approach where other surgeons may hesitate. In only very rare cases do they have to switch from robotic rectal cancer surgery to an open operation.
“We approach all patients as if they can have robotic surgery – even if they have had a previous abdominal operation,” he says. Dr. Chudzinski concludes by pointing out he and Dr. Massaroti have experience in leading multidisciplinary colon and rectal cancer tumor boards. This allows patients’ treatment plans to be seamlessly coordinated between all of their cancer experts, giving them a better chance at a good outcome.
If you need a surgeon who treats rectal, anal or colon cancers with the latest approaches, call the AdventHealth Digestive Health Institute for an initial consultation or second opinion. For a fast-tracked appointment, contact us at Call813-615-7557.