12th March 2020

World-first robot lung and throat cancer double op

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Our chief executive, Paula Chadwick, has hailed news of a ground-breaking minimally invasive surgical technique to remove both lung cancer and throat cancer as ‘truly inspirational’.

The new procedure – a world-first – was carried out by doctors at a leading London hospital in August 2019, but details are only now emerging.

The patient, a 49-year-old father of four called Harvey, was initially diagnosed with throat cancer last July after noticing a lump in his neck. Subsequent tests showed he also had lung cancer.  

The double surgical procedure meant he was able to start chemotherapy and radiotherapy sooner, improving prospects of a successful outcome.

Care and treatment

Harvey said: “It was devastating to be told I had cancer. To be my age and have two cancers, particularly in the lung as well, is a spot of bad luck to say the least.

“When I found out about the neck, I managed to get my head around that. The prognosis was good. And then you get hit and told you have another cancer (lung) which is far worse. That was the most difficult thing to hear.”

Harvey, who is a psychiatrist, married his partner Lorraine the day before the operation. He has since completed radiotherapy for the neck after this was started at the beginning of September. He has now begun radiotherapy for the lung, following chemotherapy.

Harvey’s wife Lorraine, 50, said: “The care and the treatment has been fantastic, and I’ve liked the positivity of the surgeons. Given the darkness that we’re in they have always been optimistic about the future which has been fantastic. You can always come out after seeing them and think ‘oh that’s good’.”

‘Wonderful breakthrough’

We at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are always pleased to welcome another major surgical breakthrough for people with lung cancer.

Our founder, Professor Ray Donnelly, pioneered the use of minimally invasive techniques in October 1991 when he become the first surgeon in the world to use a ‘keyhole’ technique to remove a tumour from the lung.

Paula Chadwick, our chief executive, commented:

“It is truly wonderful to witness breakthrough moments like this in lung cancer treatment; it shows just how far we have come.

Paula Chadwick, chief executive

“News such as this is truly inspiring for all of us as we work to ensure everyone with lung cancer can live better for longer.” 

“Our very best wishes go to Harvey and Lorraine; we hope he continues to make an excellent recovery.”

The new procedure

The surgical team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ used minimally invasive robotic techniques to significantly speed up recovery time, meaning the next stage of treatment could begin as quickly as possible, and giving the best chance of cure. It is also seen as offering the best chance of preventing both lung cancer and throat cancer from returning.

Previously, the patient would have required a gruelling operation, in which surgeons would have had to open his chest and jaw, followed by a lengthy stay in intensive care and then many weeks to recover.

Two teams, led by Mr Asit Arora, robotic head and neck surgical lead and Mr Andrea Bille, consultant thoracic surgeon, used a piece equipment called the Da Vinci Xi robotic system. They were supported by Mr Jean-Pierre Jeannon, clinical director for surgical oncology. The thoracic robotic program is led by Mr Tom Routledge.

First, the head and neck team removed the primary tumour from the throat. Then the thoracic team used robotic surgery to remove two thirds of Harvey’s right lung along with all the affected lymph nodes. The combined procedure lasted for six hours in total.