Surgeons have developed new minimally invasive surgery (MIS) techniques and instruments so that procedures that would previously have required a large incision can now be performed through a tiny 10mm cut.
These new methods reduce tissue damage and infection compared with more traditional surgery, and can reduce recovery times and costs.
Malignant tissue is usually stiffer than the surrounding tissue and doctors use scanning techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scanning pre-operatively to identify lesions.
But tissues may shift during surgery, making it hard to rely on the position identified by the scan.
With this glitch, researchers from the University of Western Ontario and Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced Robotics (CSTAR) in London, Ontario have come up with a robotic solution.
A robot-controlled palpating device applies consistent force and moves over suspect tissue systematically.
Using tactile sensing instruments under robotic control reduces the force applied to the tissue by over a third compared to a human controlling the same instrument.
Accuracy in detecting the tumours was also far greater with the robot - between 59 and 90 per cent depending on the robot used.
If developed further, the authors suggest that this type of instrument would particularly benefit surgeons performing lung tumour resection, where tissue often shifts significantly.
The study appears in the International Journal of Robotics Research, published today by SAGE.