Nearly 18,000 new esophageal cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year according to the American Cancer Society. St. Luke’s Hospital recently became one of the first in Iowa to offer minimally invasive surgery for esophageal cancer.
Tyrone Galbreath, DO, MHA, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI) cardiothoracic surgeon performed the first minimally invasive esophagectomy at St. Luke’s in October 2019. This minimally invasive surgery allows the patient to receive the same procedure as a traditional open operation but with smaller incisions. The other benefits of minimally invasive surgery are faster recovery and reduced pain and scarring.
“A traditionally performed esophagectomy would require a large midline incision in the belly and another large incision in the chest, which includes rib spreading in order to get acceptable exposure to perform the operation,” says Dr. Galbreath. “For the minimally invasive surgery, I perform the surgery with smaller, laparoscopic surgical instruments with four or five poke hole incisions in the abdominal wall and chest to accomplish the same oncologically sound operation we are able to perform with traditional open surgery.”
The minimally invasive esophagectomy takes about six hours to perform. During the procedure, the surgeon removes the tumor with a margin of the stomach and esophagus.
“There is some adjustment after an esophagectomy in which the patient relearns how to eat with their new esophagus, says Dr. Galbreath. “The goal of caring for cancer patients is to treat the cancer but also get the patient back to a good quality of life as quickly as possible and the minimally invasive approach accomplishes both of those things.”
Dr. Galbreath estimates about 60 to 70 percent of esophagectomies are still performed as an open surgery and about 20 to 30 percent offer the minimally invasive approach.
“I am not aware of any other community hospitals in Iowa offering minimally invasive esophagectomies,” says Dr. Galbreath. “It’s nice to be able to provide cancer patients locally with a fairly cutting-edge procedure that is typically found only at large academic medical centers. It’s the beginning of providing minimally invasive surgical care locally for esophagectomy patients.”
As a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Galbreath is also part of the open-heart surgery team at St. Luke’s and the UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids Heart and Vascular Institute.
Whenever possible, surgeons at St. Luke’s use minimally invasive procedures. For more information on how we can help you, contact us at StLukesCR@unitypoint.org.