World-first robot eye cancer op saves grandmother's sight

Tuesday 1 June 2021

World-first robotic eye cancer surgery

A grandmother who faced the prospect of losing an eye due to cancer has kept her vision thanks to innovative robotic surgery.

For the first time in the world, surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust undertook the delicate procedure using a robot to successfully remove a tumour next to a patient’s eye.

Irene Milton, 85 and a grandmother-of-seven, had a recurrent basal cell carcinoma on the inner corner of her right eye and was previously told she would have to have her eye removed in order to treat the cancer.

This type of cancer grows slowly and destroys the skin and soft tissues. Such non-melanoma skin cancers are among the most common cancers in the UK, affecting more than 150,000 people a year. Most are small and not serious, but tumours on the eye are rare.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ has pioneered the use of robotic technology for surgery in the UK. These enable surgeons to perform precise procedures in a minimally invasive way, so patients can recover quicker.

For Irene, from Bedford, it meant surgeons could work in the delicate eye area with enhanced precision and a magnified view to successfully remove her tumour while preserving the nerves and function of her eye.

Jean-Pierre Jeannon, consultant head and neck surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Guy’s and St Thomas’ operated on Irene with Asit Arora, robotic head and neck surgical lead at the trust and adjunct senior lecturer at King’s College London’s School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences.

They collaborated with surgeons from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Moorfields to perform the world-first robotic assisted orbital surgery in March.

The team removed the tumour from Irene’s eye during a two-hour operation at Guy’s Hospital, which means she doesn’t need any radiotherapy treatment. Using more conventional methods, she would have lost her eye and had to undergo six months of radiotherapy which would have left her blind.

Irene, who has four children and was a sales assistant before she retired, said: “I am so pleased at the outcome – I haven’t lost my eye and they got the cancer out. It’s such a relief, I’m over the moon.

“It’s nice to know that you’re never too old to have anything done, especially pioneering surgery.”

Over the previous 10 years, Irene had two small tumours on her eye removed but when the cancer recurred this time, she was referred to specialists at Moorfields Eye Hospital who collaborated with Guy’s and St Thomas’ to develop this new procedure to save her eye.

Jean-Pierre Jeannon said: “We’re delighted for Irene that her surgery went so well. Her tumour is gone and she has kept her sight.

“It’s the first time in the world that the robot has been used in this way for orbital surgery, and we hope we can treat more patients in the same way. The success of this procedure is testament to the collaboration between our team and our colleagues at Moorfields.

Claire Daniel, consultant oculoplastic surgeon and lid oncology lead at Moorfields Eye Hospital, said: “Irene has done really well after her surgery and it’s very exciting to be able to provide such a great service for our patients affected by cancer. This is truly a world-leading advance in orbital surgery, which we will build on in the future.

“We have developed a highly specialised periocular cancer unit thanks to our excellent collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’, enabling us to share our expertise in treating these very difficult cases.”

Last updated: March 2022

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