When Robert Banks was coping with a sore throat that just wouldn’t go away, he never dreamed that he’d be diagnosed with cancer, or that he would need to undergo potentially invasive throat surgery. He also had never heard of a new surgical device called the Flex® Robotic System. But it would turn out to be the right choice for his treatment.

A New Take on Throat Cancer Surgery

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When Robert Banks was coping with a sore throat that just wouldn’t go away, he never dreamed that he’d be diagnosed with cancer, or that he would need to undergo potentially invasive throat surgery. He also had never heard of a new surgical device called the Flex® Robotic System. But it would turn out to be the right choice for his treatment.

The Flex® Robotic System is revolutionizing the way complex throat surgeries are performed—resulting in better outcomes for patients like Robert.

The Diagnosis No One Wants to Hear

“I’d had a sore throat for about four months before I finally went to see my primary care doctor,” remembers Robert. “He referred me to an ear, nose and throat [ENT] specialist who took a biopsy.”

When the report came back, the diagnosis was stage 1 supraglottic cancer. Typically, that means cancer in the upper portion of the larynx (also called the voice box) and the epiglottis (the piece of cartilage that acts like a lid at the top of the windpipe).

“At that point, I didn’t know what kind of treatment I was in for—whether I’d need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or all of those,” he says.

Flex® Robotic System is the Solution

Robert’s ENT specialist referred him to both a radiation oncologist and a surgeon to discuss treatment options. Standard surgery to remove the epiglottis is a very invasive procedure. Since this area is tough to reach, surgical removal of the epiglottis is complex and has a difficult recovery period. But Robert’s surgeon, Daniel Karakla, M.D., an Eastern Virginia Medical School Head and Neck Surgeon at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, looked at Robert’s scans and suggested an alternative solution.

By performing the surgery using the assistance of the Flex® Robotic System, Dr. Karakla could access and remove the entire epiglottis and the upper portion of the larynx, without harming any of the healthy surrounding tissue.

The device, which is a relatively new addition to the Sentara surgical team, features a flexible, tube-like arm (rather than a rigid scope). This flexibility allows the device to easily navigate its way along windy routes within the body, removing the need for a large incision or less effective tools to access the surgical site.

The Best Outcome

“Everything about the procedure and recovery went very smoothly,” says Robert. He emerged from the nearly 8-hour surgery with a feeding tube and a tracheotomy. But within a week he was able to lose the feeding tube and return home to begin his recovery.

“It was an incredibly quick and easy recovery, and the only cut I had was the one in my throat for the tracheotomy,” says Robert. “Thanks to the robotic surgery, Dr. Karakla didn’t have to cut anything out to reach the cancer.”

That meant that Dr. Karakla was able to remove the cancerous tissue while preserving important functions in the throat. Robert’s ability to speak was not affected by the surgery, and although he had to work with a speech therapist to relearn how to swallow, he’s now able to eat and drink again with ease. A second surgery was performed to remove the highest-risk neck nodes, and they revealed no spread of cancer.

“And about 30 days post-surgery, I had the tracheotomy removed,” he says. “I know others who had surgery for this condition long before I did and they still have trachs in.”

Best of all, Robert is now cancer-free. “Dr. Karakla was able to get all of the cancerous tissue out during that surgery,” says Robert. “No chemo, no radiation—it was the best result I could ever hope for.”

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