MountainStar Health - March 28, 2019

When thinking of hysterectomies, do long painful incisions and long painful recoveries come to mind? The good news is, a new kind of hysterectomy is available. With innovative robot-assisted surgical systems in the operating room, patients can benefit from tiny incisions and quick recoveries. In fact, patients who've experienced a robotic-assisted hysterectomy have nicknamed it the "weekend hysterectomy." Bottom line — this is not your mother's hysterectomy.

"My mother-in-law had the traditional hysterectomy, and it took her a long time to heal. I remember her not being able to get around for weeks and she had a big scar across her abdomen. I figured it'd be a big surgery for me too. I'm so glad it wasn't," said Sandi Mason of Aurora.

Consider your genes

Sandi began considering a hysterectomy when she learned she carried the BRCA2 gene, an inherited gene mutation which notably increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Sandi has three aunts who've had breast cancer and her dad passed away from cancer two years ago, so she knew her chances of a cancer diagnosis ranked high.

Carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 can undergo preventative surgeries to reduce their risks of cancer. So, Sandi began meeting with physicians to discuss such preventative surgeries. About the same time, her primary care physician felt a lump on her breast that did not show up on Sandi's annual mammogram. After a biopsy, the doctor confirmed the diagnosis: Sandi had breast cancer.

After enduring a double mastectomy (the surgical removal of both breasts) and months of chemotherapy, Sandi chose to undergo a hysterectomy to eliminate her chances of ovarian cancer.

Other reasons to think about it

Other reasons women may have their ovaries, uterus and/or cervix removed during a hysterectomy include:

  • Uterine fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Pelvic adhesive disease

Finding the right doctor

When selecting a physician to perform her hysterectomy, Sandi relied on the referral of her general surgeon.

"My doctor who performed my double mastectomy was amazing and said she wouldn't let anyone else in the state touch me except Dr. Jessica Hunn," Sandi remembered. "I knew I would trust Dr. Hunn before I ever met her, and yet she still exceeded my expectations."

Dr. Hunn, gynecological oncologist at Utah Institute for Robotic Surgery, is recognized for her high-quality and compassionate care of patients and her extensive training in advanced robot-assisted gynecological procedures.

"The precision we afford with the robotics allows us to see even better," Dr. Hunn explained. "It has a 3D view, so we can look from under the diaphragm all the way into the pelvis and make sure we haven't missed any cancers, and we can also remove anything that is concerning in a very precise way."

How robots can help

During minimally invasive robot-assisted hysterectomies, the surgeon controls the robotic arms and instruments while sitting at a surgical console near the patient. The state-of-the-art technology includes high-resolution cameras for superior vision, and micro-surgical instruments which scale and translate the surgeon's exact movements seamlessly. The surgeon remains the chief mastermind during surgery, while the robot enhances visualization and provides consistent, minute movements. Together, the surgeon and robotic surgical system ensure that each procedure is performed as precisely as possible.

Other potential benefits of robot-assisted surgery include:

  • Smaller incisions and less scarring: Traditional, open surgery involve long incisions across the abdomen. With the robot-assisted laparoscopic approach, patients receive about five tiny incisions (often less than half an inch in length) for the robotic instruments to enter through.
  • Significantly less pain and decreased complications: With smaller wounds, chances of excessive bleeding, wound infections and other complications dramatically decrease — so does the amount of pain patients experience during the shortened recovery period.
  • Shorter hospital stays and shorter recovery times: Sandi says she completely agrees with the "weekend hysterectomy" nickname.

Life after the surgery

Dr. Hunn performed Sandi's robot-assisted hysterectomy in August 2018, and two days after the procedure Sandi sat cheering for her children at their extra-curricular activities.

"Trust me I've had surgeries. I've been in the hospital. This wasn't intense or scary. It didn't take me weeks to recover. In fact, I wouldn't have even known I had surgery, until the hot flashes hit. Dr. Hunn had to keep reminding me to take it easy," Sandi recalls.

Sandi Mason playing cards with her husband and children

Fantastic results and hope for the future All of Sandi's treatments — the double mastectomy, chemotherapy and robot-assisted hysterectomy — proved successful. She recently received word that she's officially cancer free!

"I feel good. Life is good," Sandi said. "People have asked me how I got through it. I believe life is going to be hard no matter what. If you don't have this trial, you're going to have another one — so make the most of what you're handed. It's how you handle your trials that's important."

Sandi Mason walking outside with her husband and children

Sandi said she's thankful for futuristic healthcare options like robots in the operating room, and she feels overwhelmed with gratitude for the medical professionals who provide hope, compassion and quality care during health challenges.

Sandi has three young daughters, who will receive testing for the BRCA2 gene as they get older. In the meantime, Sandi feels optimistic that the future will hold even more advancements in both preventative and treatment possibilities for them.