Robotic Snake Treats Head and Neck Tumors


PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Head and neck cancers are on the rise with as many as 25,000 Americans diagnosed every year. For the first time in the United States, a revolutionary robotic snake is giving surgeons a minimally invasive way to perform delicate, life-saving procedures.

Mike Yetzer and his girlfriend Juli Padasak were in the middle of flipping an old house last summer when Yetzer’s health took a sudden turn. Surgery for throat cancer three years ago left his voice weak, but suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.

Yetzer told Ivanhoe, “My options at this point, were to cut my throat, or a trach, which I wasn’t excited about.”

“It was scary. We had a lot of episodes of choking,” detailed Padasak.

Doctors say a non-cancerous growth was blocking about 30 percent of Yetzer’s airway. Head and neck surgeon and robotic specialist doctor at UPMC, Umamaheswar Duvvuri, M.D.,  thought Yetzer would be a perfect candidate for a new flexible robotic probe.

“Humans aren’t a straight line. Our mouth isn’t directly connected to the back of our throat, our voice box, our larynx, our esophagus,” explained Dr. Duvvuri. (Read Full Interview)

Surgeons insert the robot into the patient’s mouth. Moving like a snake, it can navigate almost 180 degrees.

Dr. Duvvuri said, “By using a computerized console, which is connected to the system, we can drive this camera through the mouth and into different parts of the anatomy.”

Doctors deploy tiny surgical instruments to remove tumors. Patients are released after a short stay. Yetzer said he felt fine just a few days after surgery.

“They called me to work, so I went,” said Yetzer, who is happy to be back on his feet and getting stronger every day.

Yetzer said his doctors tell him he should regain most of his voice, but it has been slow. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the flexible robot at the end of 2015. So far, the advanced robotic system is only cleared for use in head and neck surgeries although doctors say it could be useful in cardiac cases, among other things.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.



TOPIC:       Robotic Snake Treats Head and Neck Tumors

REPORT:   MB #4173


BACKGROUND: Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in the United States. These cancers are nearly twice as common among men as women, and they are also diagnosed more often among people over age 50 than they are among younger people. Head and neck cancers usually begin inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat by a squamous cell. These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary glands, but salivary gland cancers are relatively uncommon. Cancer of the head and neck are categorized depending on the area in which they begin. The most common factors that cause these types of cancer are tobacco and alcohol use.  The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice, but these symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions.

TREATMENTS: The treatment plan for an individual patient depends on a number of factors, including the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health. Treatment for head and neck cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments. Surgery for head and neck cancers often changes the patient’s ability to chew, swallow, or talk. The patient may look different after surgery, and the face and neck may be swollen. Patients who receive radiation to the head and neck may experience redness, irritation, and sores in the mouth; a dry mouth or thickened saliva; difficulty in swallowing; changes in taste; or nausea.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Head and neck surgeon and robotic specialist Dr. Uman Duvvuri is using a new robotic snake in order to help patients heal from these types of cancer. The procedure consists of inserting the robot into the patient’s mouth; the robot simulates the movement of a snake allowing it to navigate almost 180 degrees.  With this robot, the procedure is less invasive and the healing process only takes a day.
(Source: Dr. Uman Duvvuri)


Ashley Trentrock

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Umamaheswar Duvvuri, M.D.

Read the entire Q&A