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Health Beat: Robotic Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer

Published On: Aug 14 2013 10:36:45 AM EDT   Updated On: Aug 14 2013 05:35:09 PM EDT

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer in the United States, and the treatment can be brutal.

TAMPA, Fla. -

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer in the United States, and the treatment can be brutal. Advancements in robotic surgery, however, can lessen the pain, speed up your recovery, and possibly improve your chances of survival, doctors said.

Bob Dies never skips the chance to dance with his wife. Earlier this year, Dies was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and thought his dancing days might be over.

"It's the worst type of cancer," said Dies, who underwent a complex surgery called the Robotic Whipple procedure.


Dies' gallbladder and large portions of his stomach, pancreas and small intestine were removed and the remaining pancreas and digestive organs were rebuilt and reconnected.

"That’s why the operation is so complicated," said Dr. Mokenge P. Malafa, a surgical oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

That’s also why the surgeons use a robot to get it done.

"This technology actually allows us to sometimes see better, to sew better, and to cut better with less trauma to the tissue," Malafa claimed.

They also make several small incisions instead of one big one.

"There were four spots essentially where the arms of the robot went into my body,” Dies said.

The doctors said it leads to less pain, shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries, and "the wound infection rate is very low from this," said Dr. Kenneth Meredith, assistant member surgery and oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dies said he was walking the day after surgery, and he's optimistic about a full recovery.

There are still side-effects to the surgery, including infection, bleeding and trouble with the stomach emptying itself after meals.

Not everyone is a candidate for the procedure, especially those who are obese and have had abdominal surgery before.

Since it's a risky operation, the American Cancer Society said it’s critical that you have the procedure done at a specialized institution and with doctors who have the most experience.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Mokenge P. Malafa about the Robotic Whipple procedure