Dr. Arthur Martella and, in the background, da Vinci.

Dr. Martella and, in the background, da Vinci.

PHOENIXVILLE PA – A new surgical technique to treat lung cancer, the most common cause of cancer death in the United States, is being pioneered at Phoenixville Hospital by a borough-based cardiothoracic surgeon and a robot.

Dr. Arthur Martella of Penn Surgery, a division of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, currently is among only a handful of surgeons across the country performing lung cancer procedures using equipment branded as the da Vinci Surgical System. Its computer-driven, multi-armed robot with a three-dimensional view allows surgeons to make smaller incisions with greater dexterity and finer control. The result in many cases, according to manufacturer Intuitive Surgical of California, is less blood loss, reduced pain, and faster patient recovery.

“Patients with early or locally advanced lung cancer are good potential candidates for robotic-assisted thoracic procedures,” Martella said.  His goal in Phoenixville: “to use the robot with all early-stage lung cancer patients,” because early detection and surgery provides the best opportunity for their increased survival.

Statistics supplied by the hospital show slightly more than 40 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive one year after their diagnosis. About 27 percent remain alive after two years, but only about 15 percent survive after five years.

The da Vinci system provides an alternative to what usually requires open surgery, Martella noted. Its ability to robotically manipulate surgical instruments within a patient, and specifically within the chest wall, he said, reduces body trauma and the need for blood transfusions, lessens patient post-operative discomfort, and cuts the risk of infection. Martella has been using da Vinci for thoracic (chest) procedures since 2007.

da Vinci itself has a much longer history. Its original prototype was developed for the U.S. Army in the late 1980s at the former Stanford Research Institute. At the time, according to information supplied by Intuitive Surgical, the Army wanted a remote way to perform battlefield surgery. Intuitive, founded in 1995, advanced the technology and by 2000 had it approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for general laparoscopic surgery.

Other approvals followed. Now more than 1,000 da Vinci systems are installed worldwide, and Intuitive on Jan. 22 announced fourth quarter 2008 revenues of $231.5 million, up 22 percent over the same period in 2007.

Martella is consider as an industry leader in his particular use of da Vinci.

Phoenixville Hopsital, and its companion Outpatient and Surgery Center at the Limerick PA exit of U.S. Route 422, handle more than 8,500 in-patient visits annually. The hospital, on Nutt Road, is currently building a $90 million medical tower housing a spacious new emergency room, 24-bed intensive care unit, and 550-space parking garage.

Photo by Phoenixville Hospital