The Fine Art of Robotic Surgery

By John Lyons, M.D.

Robotic surgery is when a surgeon uses an advanced tool with robotic arms to perform surgery. Although we call the device a “robot,” it’s completely controlled by the surgeon and is not self-sufficient. Robotic surgery is a more advanced surgery than what we call “open surgery,” or the traditional surgery we use to make larger incisions.


Robotic surgery can be used for any type of surgery and we can perform surgery with the robot to remove any type of cancer, so anyone who has a cancerous tumor that needs to be removed is a candidate for robotic surgery. There are still cases where traditional, open surgery is appropriate – it depends on the tumor size and location.

In our surgical group, colon and colorectal cancer removal are probably the most common robotic cancer-related surgeries. We’ve used robotic surgery to remove prostate, esophageal, liver, pancreatic and stomach cancers, too. Using robotic surgery to remove liver, pancreas and esophageal cancers is unique to Cancer Center surgeons.

Robotic surgery is becoming more common, but purchasing the da Vinci robot and training surgeons on how to use it is a big investment, so only handful of facilities in state currently offer it.

We are one of the top two centers in Louisiana in terms of using robotic surgery to remove cancer. And we’ve done more advanced robotic surgeries than anyone in the state to remove complex cancers like liver and pancreas.


The advancements of robotic surgery are in the tiny mechanical hands that the surgeon controls to get into smaller places that would typically require a large incision. The robotic camera also magnifies the area we’re working with to help us see in faraway places that may be harder to identify through open incisions. This detailed, enhanced visualization lets us be more precise and accurate with surgery.

Intensive training is required to be able to use a robot for surgery – almost making it an art form. Minimally invasive, or robotic, surgery is a national trend, so most surgeons are trying to use it when and where we can to ensure a more accurate surgery and help patients recover faster.


When we perform surgery without a cutting a larger area, the incision heals faster. This means the patient has to stay in the hospital less time to recover from the surgery, can have a shorter recovery time at home, and is able to return to work and back to normal life more quickly. Another nice benefit of robotic surgery is having smaller scars.

John Lyons

Dr. John M. Lyons, III, a surgical oncologist, serves as chair of the Cancer Center’s Hepatobiliary/Upper GI and the Skin and Soft Tissue Multidisciplinary Care Teams. He was trained at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.