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Mount Elizabeth Novena is one of the leading private hospitals in Singapore. BLOOMBERG

Curing cancer with robotic surgery

When a 58-year-old Sri Lankan national came to Mount Elizabeth Novena in 2013, the fate of his health was unclear. Already diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancerous tissue had continually progressed as the radiotherapy treatment in his home country failed to eradicate the disease. Singapore was his last shot for a cure and he came wanting to live a full and productive life, free of the debilitating disease.

“While the scans confirmed that the cancer was still confined to the prostate, minimally invasive robotic surgery was our best shot,” said Dr Chin Chong Min of the Urology and Robotic Surgery Centre which is one of the urology clinics at Mount Elizabeth Novena, part of Parkway Hospitals Singapore which operates four hospitals (Mount Elizabeth Orchard and Novena, Gleneagles Hospital and Parkway East Hospital) and several medical centres in Singapore.

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The da Vinci Surgical System. Photo supplied

“The surgery was performed without complications and the patient was discharged after the third day. The catheter was removed after the sixth, and the patient flew home ten days after the surgery,” said Dr Chin. The patient’s erections came back after six months, and he has shown good recovery with no signs of relapse, said Dr Chin.

This success story would not have been possible without the cutting-edge robotic equipment, which makes surgery so much safer, with less bleeding and faster restoration of continence and erection.

“[This] surgery is convenient for Asian patients because their hospitals cannot afford to invest in a robot nor specialists trained in robotic surgery. Robotic surgery for prostate cancer makes the whole operation so much more predictable, and for foreigners, they just have to stay for about ten days,” he said.

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Dr Chin Chong Min, Urology and Robotic Surgery Centre, Mount Elizabeth Novena. Photo supplied

The hulking $2 million robotic equipment, which mimics the hand movements of the surgeon with an enhanced magnification of 10, including high-definition 3D vision, is aptly named the da Vinci Surgical System.

While Dr Chin has been using robotic surgery techniques since 2001 when the pioneering technology first began, the Sri Lankan national was the first patient to be done on the newer da Vinci robot after it was installed at Mount Elizabeth Novena in 2013. So far he has performed over 180 surgeries with the machine, of which 70-80 per cent are for prostate cancer.

He also performs laparoscopic surgery for kidney cancers and hernia repair.

“This machine is superior to conventional laparoscope and Mount Elizabeth Novena is the only private hospital in Singapore to have done so many cases using this technology,” he said. In line with Singapore’s healthcare strive for excellence and innovation, Dr Chin was the first urologist to perform robotic surgery on a 4 centimeter growth on the left adrenal gland in a 50-year-old female patient from Indonesia. The adrenal gland sits on top of the kidney and releases vital hormones. Twenty years ago, adrenal tumors were removed through open surgery that involved a 15-20 centimeter long incision on the side of the body. Since the 1990s, laparoscopic surgery become increasingly popular.

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Deluxe room at Mount Elizabeth Novena. Photo supplied

“While this procedure was a huge advancement in medical technology it still has a high complication rate of 7.5 per cent. The robot lowers the chance of complication to 3 per cent,” said Dr Chin.

“For the majority of the cases that I have performed with robotic technology, the results have been good with a fast recovery,” he added, saying that this was due not only to his 20-year career as a surgeon, but to the international training and advanced techniques Mount Elizabeth Novena fosters.

Dr Chin is one of numerous specialists at the 333-bed Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital located in the heart of Singapore’s medical hub.

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