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Minimally invasive surgery available to early stage lung cancer patients

Minimally invasive surgery available to early stage lung cancer patients
When Shirley Harris learned she had stage one lung cancer, she was naturally scared about the next step she needed to take. Her health history already included recuperating from a stroke that occurred following hip replacement surgery and now this.

But she could not allow the small nodule found in her left lung to continue to grow so she got the help she needed from Rammohan Marla, MD, who recently joined Carle Cancer Institute Urbana, to treat thoracic patients with minimally invasive cancer surgery using robotics.

“He was wonderful and so kind. Wonderful bedside manner. He was there every day checking on me,” Harris said.

Dr. Marla, who passed a rigorous evaluation to become a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and member of Society of Thoracic Surgeons, is part of a two-surgeon team that offers minimally invasive surgery to cancer patients. Together with Kevin Lowe, MD, PhD, the team gives patients the esophageal cancer surgery they need closer to home rather than traveling to St. Louis or Chicago.

Dr. Lowe is a surgical oncologist and both use the minimally invasive surgery for the esophageal cancer, one of the most aggressive cancers in human pathology, Dr. Sinisa Stanic, medical director of Carle Cancer Institute, said.

The treatment is especially helpful for patients with complicated medical histories, because it means a smaller incision. The use of a camera to do the surgery with special tools results in faster recovery, less pain and a shorter hospital stay. Pain at the site of the chest wall incision is common. About 30 to 40% of patients receiving open thoracotomy (opening the chest with large incisions and cutting ribs), experience chronic chest wall pain for years following surgery. The pain is very difficult to control.

Robotic lung surgery uses small incisions, avoids rib cuts, and virtually eliminates a chance for long lasting chest wall pain after lung cancer surgery, Dr. Stanic said.

Dr. Marla first received medical training in New Delhi, India followed by general surgery training at the University of Connecticut and thoracic surgery training at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Medicine is a favored occupation in his family, as his uncle is a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon in England, while his father, sister, father-in-law and sister-in-law are all physicians.

Currently, Dr. Marla conducts the minimally invasive procedure with patients who are experiencing an early stage of lung cancer, are 65 years old or older and long-term smokers of tobacco. The procedure typically lasts about 2 hours.

He is enthusiastic about the future of robotic surgery at Carle. “There is an opportunity to grow here,” Dr. Marla said. “We have a good team of colleagues and nurse practitioners and that is most rewarding.”
For patients with lung cancer, Carle Cancer Institute offers:
  • Low dose CT for lung cancer screening
  • Karina Parke, NP, a lung navigator who reviews each case, orders any outstanding tests/procedures and connects the patient with the appropriate provider for care.
  • A multidisciplinary lung cancer tumor board that reviews all cases and consults on the best course of treatment.
At 75, Shirley Harris looks back on her experience with gratitude. The nodule found in its early stage is gone and she is soon returning to work near her home in Tilton as a hostess at a slot machine business.
Learn more about the innovations Carle Cancer Institute brings to the region at

Categories: Redefining Healthcare, Community

Tags: cancer, robotics, surgery