A Melbourne woman has become the first person in Victoria to have a pancreatic tumour enucleated using a surgical robot.

32 year-old “Jenny” gained 15 kilograms during the COVID-19 pandemic and thought she had just put on COVID kilos.

It was only when she was quite unwell at work, that she discovered it was something more serious.

“I was at work with a customer and was trying to log onto my computer and I just kept typing on the computer but didn’t know what I was doing,” Jenny said.

“The customer kept talking to me, but I wasn’t responding. They got my manager who asked me if I knew where I was, and I just couldn’t answer him.”

Suspecting she had low blood sugar, colleagues gave Jenny some lollies and she improved and went home to rest.

Jenny saw her GP the next day and was referred to an endocrinologist. The specialist ordered scans which uncovered an insulin producing neuroendocrine tumour.

Jenny was told she would require major surgery known as a Whipple procedure where part of the pancreas, stomach and small intestine are removed.

She sought a second opinion and was referred to Epworth Richmond surgeon Dr Osamu Yoshino.

“An insulin producing neuroendocrine tumour can cause significant symptoms similar to someone having a stroke, including losing consciousness or the ability to speak,” Dr Osamu said.

“In the worst-case scenario, someone can suffer brain damage.”

Rather than the major Whipple procedure, Dr Osamu opted for a Victorian first, using a robot to perform minimally invasive surgery known as a ‘robotic enucleation of the pancreatic tumour.

“The surgery involves intense work very close to the pancreatic duct which is less than a millimetre wide, so we are guided during the operation with the assistance of a very small ultrasound probe which can be used inside of a patient’s abdomen.”

“Carrying out the minimally invasive robotic surgery, instead of an open Whipple procedure means the operating time is reduced from eight to three hours. There’s less time in hospital, less scarring and a faster recovery time.”

Epworth Richmond was the first hospital in Australia to introduce robotic surgery, carried out on a prostate cancer patient in December 2003.