Dr Diane Drugas walked us through the Robotic Surgery Lab at UI Health.
“It gives better visualization it’s a 3d screen that the surgeon visualizes the surgical field with and for areas that are hard to fit your hand into it gives you more precise surgery,” said Dr. Drugas.
Traditionally used for pelvic and abdominal procedures, the breast surgeon is applying the technology to her line of work as an alternative to an open mastectomy.
“The traditional open mastectomy sometimes leaves patients with disfiguring scars and some patients struggle with body image and sexuality and even depression, so the advantage of this technique is that it is virtually scarless there is no scar put on the breast at all”
With a robotic approach, the only incision Dr. Drugas makes is a two-to-three centimeter opening near the arm pit. From there she threads a camera and instruments through to reach the breast tissue.
“The surgeon controls the arms with these little hand pieces you see on the console. Then the gland is dissected from the skin like we do in a traditional mastectomy.”
It’s a procedure she’s been perfecting for months.
“There’s definitely a learning curve. We’re used to doing it the open way”
So far, she’s performed four robotic mastectomies on patients who opted for prophylactic breast removal due to an increased risk for cancer. Faith Isemonger carries the BRCA mutation. Her sister does, too, and is already fighting stage four cancer.
“I’ve seen what my sister went through and I’m like I don’t want to do this, so I decided it was best for me to go ahead and have it done prophylactically,” said Faith Isemonger.
With her sister, Hope, by her side, Faith underwent the robotic procedure in April. It took 8 hours, much longer than a traditional open procedure.
“The downside, I think, is that it takes much longer it takes at least 80 minutes longer and some patients aren’t medically fit to be under that long,” said Dr. Drugas.
Even with the extended procedure, the 49-year-old is relieved her risk for breast cancer is now much lower.
“Unfortunately, the surgery lasted for 8 hours but I think it was well worth it in the end,” said Faith. “I wasn’t in a lot of pain I really didn’t take a lot of pain meds, little scarring which was great compared to what my sister had to go thru having a traditional mastectomy done
Christine Masterson knows what a traditional mastectomy feels like – she had the open procedure done on her right breast after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
“I’m ok with the scaring,” said Masterson. “It’s part of who I am now, and it’s a story.
But when it came time to have her other breast removed to reduce the chance of her cancer returning, the veteran police officer opted for the less-invasive approach in September. She says she’s happy to share her story with others contemplating the robotic procedure.
“To let people know there are other options out there you don’t always have to get the full mastectomy and in hindsight it was better for me less scarring easier recovery than the first surgery there’s always option,” said Masterson.
“I’m excited about it I think it’s wonderful for preserving body image and recovery and I think we have a lot to offer patients with it,” said Dr. Drugas.