ATLANTA, Georgia – 200,000 people are diagnosed with esophageal cancer every year in the United States. Many of those cancers are in advanced stages by the time patients see any symptoms let alone seek treatment.
Peter and Margi Caron have been happily married for 46 years. They have three children and six grandchildren.
They love to travel to exotic places including a safari in South Africa. They were planning a cruise last year when Peter got sick.
"I was losing weight, wasn't eating right, wasn't hungry," said Peter.
An endoscopy revealed a two-inch tumor in his esophagus.
It was cancer.
"It was six treatments of chemo while doing 26 treatments of radiation."
After shrinking the tumor, Peter needed a ten hour surgery to remove it.
Thoracic surgeon Manu Sancheti says it's a lengthy and complex procedure.
"Taking out the esophagus and using the stomach as a new esophagus," explained Dr. Sancheti, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Emory School of Medicine and Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.
Traditionally done with large incisions across the stomach and chest, Dr. Sancheti and his team at Emory University now use robotic technology.
"It allows the articulation for the surgeon to move their hands and fingers in ways they weren't able to do before."
Going through small incisions on the side, doctors were able to remove the tumor and create Peter's new esophagus.
"They could not see that it spread outside the esophagus," said Peter. "The lymph nodes were clean, I couldn't ask for anything more."
HOW THIS TECHNIQUE IS DIFFERENT: Dr. Sancheti says the way these surgeries were done involved bigger incisions and open chest surgery. That includes big incisions and the spreading of the ribs to allow instruments and even the surgeon's hands to get inside the chest and do the surgery. The new thoracoscopy allows the surgeon to put a little light and camera inside the chest to visualize the chest cavity and then insert surgical instruments through little holes rather than a big incision.
Doctors say performing the surgery robotically means a shorter stay in the hospital, days not weeks.
"Allowing them to get back to a normal lifestyle as soon as possible is really the best reward," he said.
Peter remains closely monitored and has a PET scan every six months.
If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at email@example.com.