Robotic nipple-sparing mastectomy was first described in 2015 and appears to be gaining traction in Europe. Slower to catch on in the US, the procedure is now also starting to raise safety concerns for some surgeons.
The da Vinci robot is not yet FDA-approved for mastectomy. There is concern amongst some medical professionals that robotic tumor removal could inadvertently cause breast cancer cells to spread by fragmenting the cancerous tissue as it is being pulled out of the small incision.
Dr Hooman Noorchashm, a Philadelphia-based surgeon turned patient advocate, has raised questions about the safety and appropriateness of using the da Vinci robot for mastectomies… “The reason why I am focused on robotic mastectomy is because I think there is a parallel [with hysterectomy via power morcellator] of selling cosmesis and convenience to women for a surgical operation. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a history of being lax in its oversight of 510K devices, which include the power morcellator and the da Vinci robot, he said. These devices can replace established standards of care without proper evidence.”
To date there have been no clinical trials to compare the safety of robotic surgery with the traditional techniques used for breast cancer surgery.
Dr Noorchashm has also referred to a recent study from MD Anderson that compared survival rates of laparoscopic hysterectomies for cervical cancer to traditional “open” surgical methods that use larger incisions. The research found that patients who underwent the minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery were four times more likely to experience recurrence than those who had the open surgery. These finding came over 10 years after laparoscopic surgery was recommended as the standard for care.
This is not to say that robotic surgery isn’t an option for some patients. Recent headlines have praised surgeons for performing robot-assisted prophylactic breast surgery and immediate implant-based breast reconstruction. Although controversial, there is no evidence to suggest robotic surgery could increase the risk of developing breast cancer in preventative mastectomy cases.
Long-term, high quality research is underway, but it could be years before there is a better understanding of the full impact and risk of robotic surgery for breast cancer patients.
Looking for more information to help you weigh your surgical options? Download the Breast Advocate app now.
FDA issues safety communication about robotic mastectomies – Caution When Using Robotically-Assisted Surgical Devices in Women’s Health including Mastectomy and Other Cancer-Related Surgeries.