Raleigh, N.C. — Robotic hysterectomies require a shorter recovery time than traditional open surgery, but not enough surgeons are trained to do the new technique.
Until recently, traditional laparoscopic surgery was the only minimally invasive option for hysterectomies. However, the limited movement of the laparoscopic tools meant that 60 percent of hysterectomies were done using open surgery.
The four- to six-week recovery time of laparoscopic surgery made it a tough option for Kim Ledbetter, 42, who had fibroids with excessive bleeding.
"I work pretty much a family business. I couldn't afford to take off that much time," she said.
She eventually turned to Dr. Jack Inge, a surgeon at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, who performs hysterectomies using Da Vinci surgical robots.
Ledbetter came in for surgery on a Tuesday morning and felt back up to par in less than a week. "I took it easy for a couple of days, but I was back to work that Monday," she said.
Da Vinci surgical robots let doctors move places and see things in the body that they couldn't otherwise.
"They're really small, so we can get in delicate places and do precise surgeries I never could with my hands," Inge said. "You can see in high definition, 3-D vision, 10 times magnification, so I can essentially see better with the robot than I can see with my own eyes."
The surgery offers small incisions with minimal scars, very little blood loss and improved ability to find and remove all lesions. Surgeons' improved vision also means they can avoid having to remove the whole uterus.
Despite the advantages of robotic surgery, open hysterectomies still account for 40 percent of cases. Inge said open hysterectomies should be 0 percent.
The American Association of Laparoscopic Gynecologists recently recommended that if surgeons can't do minimally invasive surgery, they should send their patients to a surgeon who can or seek training themselves. The association urged women who need hysterectomies to demand this minimally invasive option with robotic surgery.
Rex Hospital is one of 20 centers in the country teaching the practices of robotic gynecological surgery in the hopes of increasing the number of centers offering it and women who benefit from it.
"People are going to come from all over the country to watch us do surgery and learn," Inge said.