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Buy Addenbrooke’s A Robot: ‘It would be a huge benefit’



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Every 15 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with bowel cancer, but it can be treated and, if caught early enough, it’s curable.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK, and about 250 patients a year come to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for surgery for the condition.

The surgery is a major procedure, but a surgical robot could make it much less invasive.

Dr Michael Powar, consultant colorectal surgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital. Picture: Mel Yeneralski, Cambridge Media Studio
Dr Michael Powar, consultant colorectal surgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital. Picture: Mel Yeneralski, Cambridge Media Studio

Michael Powar, consultant colorectal surgeon, said up to 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

“Part of the work we do as a wider team is raising awareness for bowel cancer because it is curable if you catch it early and you can cure it with surgery,” he said.

Historically, those patients would have faced open surgery to remove the cancer and join the bowel back together.

But with the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a significant proportion of patients could instead undergo a keyhole procedure and, as a result, have smaller wounds, less pain, a lower risk of hernias, a shorter stay in hospital and a quicker recovery.

“When you talk about bowel surgery, it’s important people are back to eating and drinking as well as going to the toilet sooner as well.

“Not all patients with bowel cancer can have a laparoscopic operation, particularly those patients who have rectal cancers, because that’s a cancer of the bowel just above the back passage which is in your pelvis and your pelvis is a confined space. There are technical difficulties of doing keyhole surgery in that area,” Mr Powar explained.

He continued: “And obviously when you’re in a confined space like the pelvis there are limitations of what you can do with the straight stick laparoscopic surgery.

“There is evidence that using a robot has the potential to increase the number of patients who can undergo the more minimally invasive surgery.”

A new robot would give more Addenbrooke’s patients the chance to recover much more quickly and leave the hospital sooner, so they can be at home with their loved ones as well as releasing beds for other patients.

The robot’s precision would also minimise any impact on surrounding nerves, and any stress on the body too including potential complications with bladder and sexual function.

As patients get back home and begin to lead normal lives once again, they can eat, drink and go to the toilet as normal, enabling them to build up the energy to recover faster.

The Cambridge Independent and Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust have teamed up to raised £1.5m to 'Buy Addenbrooke's a Robot'
The Cambridge Independent and Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust have teamed up to raised £1.5m to 'Buy Addenbrooke's a Robot'

The Cambridge Independent has joined forces with Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) as part of its £1.5m ‘Buy Addenbrooke’s a Robot’ appeal. Addenbrooke’s currently has one surgical robot – and it is the busiest in the UK working around the clock.

A second robot will allow the hospital to expand the areas in which robotic surgery can be used and increase capacity as it tries to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

By supporting the campaign, you could help us treat more patients with minimally invasive surgery for this critical condition.

Duncan Rodgers, a former patient of Mr Powar and ACT volunteer, said: “Five years ago, I was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer, which was a great shock. I met Mr Powar at Addenbrooke’s who gave me hope that it could all be sorted out. I had two operations, one to remove the tumour using keyhole surgery, and I also was given an ileostomy and stoma, which thankfully was removed eight months later.

“I was really dreading the stoma but trusted Mr Powar totally. The operation was a long one but after a day or two, I was sitting up in a chair and I was able to eat mushed food at first and a bland diet for a month or so. After the stoma was removed and I was given the all-clear, I felt so relieved, and I gradually began to get back to normal.

“I’m very grateful for the care I received at Addenbrooke’s and now volunteer for ACT to do something positive to help others going through the same things as I did. People want to get home as soon as possible after surgery, and the quicker you can get people out of hospital, the more people you can get in to be treated. A surgical robot would really help to speed this process up.”

Addenbrooke's Hospital - entrance to the Addenbrooke's Hospital site off Hills Road. (49451093)
Addenbrooke's Hospital - entrance to the Addenbrooke's Hospital site off Hills Road. (49451093)

The majority of patients who develop bowel cancer are over the age of 60, but Mr Powar explains that in recent years there has been an increasing diagnosis of much younger patients.

“It’s not a cancer that receives a lot of attention but it is a very common cancer,” he said. “If you catch it early enough then 90 per cent of patients are alive in five years and cured of their cancer.”

A proportion of patients will require chemotherapy after their surgery and like the other disciplines, robot-assisted surgery will mean they are in the “best shape for further treatment”.

Mr Powar added: “It’s important that we introduce another robot at Addenbrooke’s because we need to be able to have a full range of treatment options available so that we can tailor the treatment to the individual needs of the patient.”

He added: “It may not be for everyone, just as chemotherapy and other treatments are not for everyone, but if we have these tools in our toolkit then we have the ability to offer the right treatment for each patient.”

Mr Powar said a surgical robot would have a “significant impact on peoples’ lives”.

He said: “We believe that this will be positive, and make a positive impact for patients. The beauty of this robot is that multiple specialities within the hospital will be using it, every day of the week.”

The Cambridge Independent and Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust have teamed up to raised £1.5m to 'Buy Addenbrooke's a Robot' Picture: Mel Yeneralski Cambridge Media Studio
The Cambridge Independent and Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust have teamed up to raised £1.5m to 'Buy Addenbrooke's a Robot' Picture: Mel Yeneralski Cambridge Media Studio

Delivering innovation... the advent of digital surgery

The presence of robots in operating theatres is no longer the preserve of science fiction novels, but an increasing clinical reality.

These evolving technologies have the potential to transform surgical care for thousands

of patients.

A new surgical robot at Addenbrooke’s would allow the hospital to lead innovation to further deliver the best possible patient care.

“It gives us the ability to be at the forefront of that innovation and improve the operations we offer patients as well,” said Michael Powar, consultant colorectal surgeon.

A new surgical robot would also bring benefits for those innovation partners that Addenbrooke’s works with across Cambridge Biomedical Campus, as it looks forward to treating future patients.

Mr Powar explained: “There’s an interest in digital surgery which is where you harness additional modalities including augmented reality to overlay on your robotic surgical image to tailor the procedure for individual patients. We can work with industry and scientific partners to develop this technology.

“For example, let’s take the MRI scanner image of that patient and overlay it onto the real time operating image, how does that help? We can refine and improve the operations we offer to patients – essentially tailor the approach so that the individual patient benefits from it.”

If you are going to support the appeal with a fundraiser, get in touch at newsdesk@iliffemedia.co.uk. Find out more, donate or fundraise at helpyourhospital.co.uk/robot.

Read more:

Buy Addenbrooke’s A Robot: Support our £1.5m campaign to improve surgery for patients

Tackling a clinical research challenge in Cambridge amid the pandemic

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