New technology at UPMC Liver Center can be a game changer for patients

PITTSBURGH — Every year in the U.S., nearly 35,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number has been rising for several decades, but may be starting to level off.

Fran Azur is one of the people who received that diagnosis last year. His doctor sent him for an abdominal scan after a routine exam. A biopsy confirmed his fear: it was cancer.

Dr. Samer Tohme is a liver surgeon and Assistant Professor for Surgery at the UPMC Liver Cancer Center. He told Channel 11 News Anchor Susan Koeppen that when a patient has liver cancer, the only way to cure him is to cut the cancer out. Even 5 years ago, the treatment would have meant a major surgery and a long recovery. Your liver is under your rib cage, so doctors had to make a long incision to work around your ribs.

But now, a minimally invasive technique using robotic technology can be a game changer. “Using the robotic approach, we are able to operate on patients with bigger tumors or a tumor in a more difficult location in the liver,” Dr. Tohme says. Surgeons make three or four small incisions and insert ports that serve as pathways for the camera and surgical instruments. Dr. Tohme explains that “the robot has many arms and those arms are controlled by the surgeon. Those arms have a 360 degree view, so they can reach areas that normal instruments, whether laparoscopic or not, cannot reach that area.”

Mr. Azur is one of Dr. Tohme’s patients. Dr. Tohme removed Fran’s cancerous tissue using the robotic technology. “They removed a quarter of my liver one afternoon and the next afternoon, by later in the afternoon, I was home again,” Fran told Channel 11.

Dr. Tohme says the minimally invasive surgery means less time under anesthesia, less pain and less time in the hospital. The surgery is only offered at a few centers in the U.S. Doctors at UPMC are among the most experienced teams in the country.

Fran is now back to spending time with his horses, and thankful to be cancer free. “It’s amazing what they can do.”

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