Should Robots Be Used in Breast Cancer Surgeries?

Playing Robotic Surgery Warning for Female Cancers

The FDA recently issued a warning for patients and healthcare providers against robotic surgeries for certain female cancers. Breast cancer expert surgeon Dr. Kristi Funk joins The Doctors on Skype to explain.

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Dr. Funk says until randomized controlled trials showing that using robots is equal to or superior to the normal way, the FDA isn't going to approve it. This warning is not saying there have been bad outcomes, there's just not enough data yet. Dr. Funk bets in skilled hands, those who adhere to oncological surgical procedures while operating with robots will have equal outcomes in terms of survival and recurrence with or without a robot.

There are currently two trials in Europe studying robotic mastectomies so there should be some early data in a few years. Dr. Funk says she is all for surgical advances if they improve the patient's experience as well as the cosmetics of breast surgery. On the flipside, her patients already go home after surgery only needing oral medications for pain and she already makes small incisions so she believes it's going to be hard for a robot to improve on that.

She adds that most surgeons are not trained in robots so a lot of time and money will be needed to learn those skills. She has heard that there have been some robotic mastectomies done prophylactically, meaning there is no cancer, but heard they took a long time and were expensive. Is it worth it?

OB/GYN Dr. Nita Landry shares her experience operating with robots has been great but that she definitely wants to see more studies and literature. If someone does have an operation robotically, Dr. NIta asks about the follow-up plan. Dr. Funk explains this has to do with the final analysis of the cancer being removed and what the reoccurrence rate may be. 

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If you're looking at robotic surgery for a cancer operation, there are only a handful of centers that are doing it. They are perfecting their technique and know what they are doing, and they have some prophylactic mastectomies under their belt so "they really learned their skills and now when it comes to removing a cancer well, they know how to do it," says Dr. Funk.

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