“The traditional procedure [for thyroid surgery] is very safe,” Dr. Holsinger said. “I think the real leap forward will be to use robotic thyroidectomy as a stepping stone to more complex operations, neck dissection, for example, or even tracheoesophageal or laryngeal framework surgery.”
A Decade of Development
The “scarless” procedure was developed by South Korean surgeon Woong Youn Chung, MD, of Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul. Dr. Chung set out to find a way to perform thyroidectomy without causing the four-inch horizontal neck scar typical of traditional thyroid surgery. “Many Asian people, especially young women, don’t want to have a neck scar after surgery, because a hypertrophic scar is more frequent in Asian people,” Dr. Chung said in an e-mail.
Efforts to avoid the scar on the neck by performing thyroidectomy endoscopically have been ongoing for at least a decade in Japan, Korea and other Asian nations, but using a laparoscope to access the thyroid through a small, distant incision took longer and required more effort, Dr. Chung said. Also, the rigid and relatively unsophisticated instruments limited maneuverability. Such problems were largely resolved, Dr. Chung said, by performing the procedure using the da Vinci Surgical System manufactured by Intuitive Surgical of Sunnyvale, Calif. The system was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000.