Cancer: Neck lump patient in robot surgery first

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Media caption"I'd have robot surgery 10 times over chemo"

Pioneering robotic surgery to remove hard-to-reach head and neck cancers has been performed in Wales for the first time.

More than 20 patients a year from across Wales are expected to benefit from the new service at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

Surgeons use a precision robot with several arms to remove tumours and improve the chances of recovery.

The first patient is recovering well from his operation in December.

Previously some Welsh patients travelled as far as Newcastle for this type of surgery, which helps diagnose cancers as well as treat them.

Grandfather-of-six Martin Griffiths, 48, from Margam, Port Talbot, was left preparing for the worst last autumn after tests on a lump in his neck showed he had cancer that was very difficult to reach.

Image caption The Da Vinci robot has more dexterity than a surgeon

Surgeons chose him for the first procedure in Wales using a robot which was originally purchased by the hospital for prostate surgery.

"I went straight on to Google to see what it looked like - I was expecting [Star wars character] C3PO," said Mr Griffiths.

"They could go further inside my throat with the machine - which they couldn't do with their hands - the cuts would be cleaner. They could be more accurate [and] they got all of it out in one go."

Image caption Surgeons can see down the patient's throat thanks to the robot

A human surgeon's wrist can turn 180 degrees, whereas the robot's four "hands" can rotate four or five times.

This dexterity reduces the need for more invasive surgery - in some cases this might have involved breaking the jaw open - and patients can recover much more quickly.

"Within four days after [the operation] I was eating everything in the hospital and [was] released on the fifth day," said Mr Griffiths.

His recovery is being carefully monitored, but he feels able to plan for the future again.

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption The arrow on Martin Griffiths's neck before surgery highlights the location of the cancerous lump
Image caption Martin Griffiths had surgery down his throat and through his neck in December - but they did not need to split his jaw

"Because I was the first one the rules are I have to have radio and chemotherapy... They're hoping from this they can rule them out for future patients," he said.

The Da Vinci robot was set up at the University Hospital of Wales five years ago and has since been used for prostate and kidney operations.

Image caption A surgeon controls the robot

The surgeon sits at a console with the controls and a three-dimensional video feed, as if they are looking straight down the throat.

Consultant head and neck surgeon Mr Stuart Quine said once a hospital has this kind of equipment doctors start thinking about other ways of using it, and the Cardiff team has also been supported by the Royal Marsden hospital in London.

Image caption Martin Griffiths had feared the worst but now feels able to plan for the future again

He added they get around 200 cases a year in Wales with this kind of tumour where they need to access the base of the tongue "round the corner" inside the throat, although not all will necessarily be suitable for the surgery.

His fellow surgeon Mr Sandeep Berry said it was a service for the whole of Wales and everybody who needs it should benefit from it.

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