Laparoscopic Colorectal Surgery Offers
Distinct Advantages for Colon Cancer Patients

By Susan K. Williams

 Nearly two years after the end of a 10-year moratorium on laparoscopic colorectal surgery for cancer, a Memorial Hermann Cancer Center physician believes this proven procedure is underutilized. Eric Haas, M.D., a board-certified colorectal surgeon specializing in laparoscopic surgery for colon cancer patients, now performs an estimated 10 percent of all such procedures in the country.

“Nationwide, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death,” said Haas. “The benefits of this technique over the traditional approach are significant, yet since the end of the moratorium, only 20 percent of doctors across the U.S. are performing it routinely.”

After laparoscopic colon surgery was introduced approximately 12 years ago, concerns about the success rate prompted a moratorium on the procedure. Those concerns were put to rest following a decade-long study which determined that success rates for laparoscopic and conventional approaches were identical.

“The implications of this study are of great importance for those with colon cancer,” said Haas. “Whenever there is a choice to do a major operation using minimally invasive techniques (or technology), we as physicians owe it to our patients to let them know about it.”

 Haas performs the surgery with the LAP DISC, a ring-like device which allows him to insert his hand inside the body through an incision no larger than his glove size. Two smaller incisions are made for a miniature camera and the laparoscopic instruments. He then guides the instruments with his other hand from outside the body.

The procedure offers several distinctive advantages. The incision is much smaller than conventional surgery and the patient typically has a much shorter recovery time, usually about three days. One day following the procedure, the patient is walking and on oral pain medication. By the third day, he or she is back to a regular diet and experiencing bowel movements. Normal activity can be resumed in three to four weeks.

Before the laparoscopic procedure was developed, patients receiving conventional surgery often received an incision that was at least one foot in length, stayed in the hospital for up to a week and could not resume normal activity for nearly two months.

“A smaller incision and reduced pain not only leads to quicker recovery,” says Haas, “but, when appropriate, it also allows us to enroll patients for chemotherapy much sooner following surgery.”

The American Cancer Society’s national figures for 2005 estimate more than 145,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and of that number more than 56,000 will die of the disease. In Texas alone, it was estimated that more than 9,200 cases of the disease would be diagnosed with approximately 3,500 resulting in death.

According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of all colorectal cancer cases and subsequent deaths are believed to be preventable. When the disease is detected at an early stage, the five-year relative survival rate also is 90 percent.

The minimally invasive laparoscopic technique can now be offered to patients with a variety of colorectal diseases such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease in addition to colon cancer.

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