Cancer: Neck lump patient in robot surgery first
Pioneering robotic surgery to remove hard-to-reach head and neck cancers has been performed in Wales for the first time.
More than 20 patients a year from across Wales are expected to benefit from the new service at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
Surgeons use a precision robot with several arms to remove tumours and improve the chances of recovery.
The first patient is recovering well from his operation in December.
Previously some Welsh patients travelled as far as Newcastle for this type of surgery, which helps diagnose cancers as well as treat them.
Grandfather-of-six Martin Griffiths, 48, from Margam, Port Talbot, was left preparing for the worst last autumn after tests on a lump in his neck showed he had cancer that was very difficult to reach.
Surgeons chose him for the first procedure in Wales using a robot which was originally purchased by the hospital for prostate surgery.
"I went straight on to Google to see what it looked like - I was expecting [Star wars character] C3PO," said Mr Griffiths.
"They could go further inside my throat with the machine - which they couldn't do with their hands - the cuts would be cleaner. They could be more accurate [and] they got all of it out in one go."
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A human surgeon's wrist can turn 180 degrees, whereas the robot's four "hands" can rotate four or five times.
This dexterity reduces the need for more invasive surgery - in some cases this might have involved breaking the jaw open - and patients can recover much more quickly.
"Within four days after [the operation] I was eating everything in the hospital and [was] released on the fifth day," said Mr Griffiths.
His recovery is being carefully monitored, but he feels able to plan for the future again.
"Because I was the first one the rules are I have to have radio and chemotherapy... They're hoping from this they can rule them out for future patients," he said.
The Da Vinci robot was set up at the University Hospital of Wales five years ago and has since been used for prostate and kidney operations.
The surgeon sits at a console with the controls and a three-dimensional video feed, as if they are looking straight down the throat.
Consultant head and neck surgeon Mr Stuart Quine said once a hospital has this kind of equipment doctors start thinking about other ways of using it, and the Cardiff team has also been supported by the Royal Marsden hospital in London.
He added they get around 200 cases a year in Wales with this kind of tumour where they need to access the base of the tongue "round the corner" inside the throat, although not all will necessarily be suitable for the surgery.
His fellow surgeon Mr Sandeep Berry said it was a service for the whole of Wales and everybody who needs it should benefit from it.