Introduction: Robotic technology has been safely integrated into thoracic and abdominopelvic surgery, and the early experience has been very promising with very rare complications related to robotic device failure. Recently, several reports have documented the technical feasibility of transoral robotic surgery (TORS) with the daVinci Surgical System. Proposed pharyngeal and laryngeal applications include radical tonsillectomy, base-of-tongue resection, supraglottic laryngectomy, and phonomicrosurgery. The safety of transoral placement of the robotic endoscope and instruments has not been established. Potential risks specific to the transoral use of the surgical robot include facial skin laceration, tooth injury, mucosal laceration, mandible fracture, cervical spine fracture, and ocular injury. We hypothesize that these particular risks of transoral surgery are similar with robotic assistance compared with conventional transoral surgery.
Methods: To test this hypothesis, we attempted to intentionally injure a human cadaver with the daVinci Surgical System by impaling the facial skin and pharyngeal and laryngeal mucosa with the robotic instruments and endoscope. We also attempted to extract or fracture teeth and fracture the cadaver's mandible and cervical spine by applying maximal pressure and torque with the robotic arms. Experiments were documented with still and video photography.
Results: Impaling the cadaver's skin and mucosa resulted in only superficial lacerations. Tooth, mandible, and cervical spine fracture could not be achieved.
Conclusions: Initial experiments performing TORS on a human cadaver with the daVinci Surgical System demonstrate a safety profile similar to conventional transoral surgery. Additionally, we discuss several strategies to increase patient safety in TORS.