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Utah cancer surgeons use new, less-invasive robotic surgery with shorter recovery time

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SALT LAKE CITY — Surgeons at Huntsman Cancer Institute are pioneering a new lung cancer technique that is less invasive and dramatically shortens recovery time for the patient.

They are the first hospital to use ION robotic surgery. One Utah patient is amazed at how quickly he was back at home.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the U.S. for men and women.

So, this groundbreaking surgery can make a life-saving difference. It's already made a big difference for Rodney Poche who found out he had lung cancer several months ago.

"It was just amazing to see the technology," said Poche, in an interview at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

When he had ION robotic surgery to remove a 5-mm cancerous tumor from his lung, he said, it was like being operated on by someone playing a video game.

"Imagine going in and just clipping that little piece out, and then everything's fine," he said.

Poche used to work with big robots in auto assembly. So, he appreciates their work, especially the one which helped save his life.

Surgeons like Dr. Brian Mitzman have used the da Vinci robot for years. The cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon said the ION is a new supplemental robot.

"It's the camera that goes down the airway and inside the lung," the surgeon said.

That allows him to find a tiny cancer, like the tumor in Poche's lung.

"Then we can inject it with a little bit of dye. So, that when we go in to take out the cancer, it will light up for us. It shows exactly where it is, so we can take out the smallest amount of lung tissue as possible," Mitzman said.

It's truly a game-changer because lung tumors can be hard to find.

"So, a lot of times, it's either guesswork or taking out a very big piece of lung just to get out this tiny little cancer," he said.

With the ION, they spot the cancer, remove it, and take out far less lung tissue.

"Imagine the lung like a big, wet sponge, and Rodney's tumor was smaller than a pea. So, trying to find a pea in that big wet sponge is very difficult," Mitzman said.

The ION robot makes the surgeon's job easier. But, the biggest benefit, he said, is for the patient.

"It lets us save as much lung tissue as possible," Mitzman said.

For a 75-year-old like Poche, that makes a difference in recovery time.

"I felt great," said Poche.

He spent just one night in the hospital and took a few Tylenol. That recovery compares to a week in the hospital and opioids likely for patients with traditional surgery. Poche said he felt tingling in his chest from the healing, but no pain.

"It was really surprising to me that it didn't stop me from doing anything," he said.

He grateful to get back to regular activities and trips with his family, which includes four children and 17 grandkids.

"It's nice to be able to just go back and just do normal stuff. It never really slowed me down," he said.

Poche's surgery was so successful that Huntsman Cancer Institute surgeons have performed nine others and have three more surgeries slated next month.

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Jed Boal


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