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Robotic Procedure Saves a Patient from Expanded Cancer Surgery

Not long ago, cancer patient Michael Smith would have faced an unpleasant choice. Excise the cancer at the base of his tongue in an hours-long surgery involving the cleaving of his jaw and tongue, or leave the tumor be and hope that radiation therapy and chemotherapy sufficed.

John Song, MD

Michael Smith discusses his surgery with John Song, MD.

But Smith was able to choose a third path, thanks to a new robot-assisted surgical technique available at UCH.

Transoral robotic surgery (or TORS, as the technique is called) makes use of UCH’s da Vinci Surgical System and the surgical skills of John Song, MD.

“[TORS] offers me a much more precise way to target the cancer,” said Song, who leads the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Head and Neck Surgery. “It’s extremely satisfying to be able to use this technique to help patients who otherwise would have needed extensive surgery.”

A faster recovery

Smith, an IT consultant living in Salida, Colo., said he went for a two-mile walk nine days after going under the robotically steered knife. Had he undergone a mandibulotomy, the jaw-splitting alternative, he might have spent more than a month in the hospital.

TORS, he said, was “a game changer” because it offered the same results with a much shorter hospital stay and a much faster recovery.

Recovery time was important for reasons beyond physical comfort. Smith’s fight against cancer isn’t over. He will spend months in radiation treatment and chemotherapy aimed at purging the rogue cells from his system.

“With cancer, you think you know how it might feel until it happens to you, but it helps if you have a path to get better, and in this case, I have a path to get better,” Smith said. “It’s great to live in a time and place where you can get this kind of thing done.”

This page is adapted from a story that appeared in the UCH Insider, the hospital's candid e-newsletter.

The Insider, which is published biweekly, is available to people outside the hospital via a free e-mail subscription. Tyler Smith ( is managing editor of the Insider.

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