The prostate is a small walnut sized gland found below the urinary bladder in men. During sexual climax, it releases fluid into the urethra that forms a part of the semen and energises the sperm as well as reduces the acidity of the vaginal canal.
Prostate cancer is a malignant cancer that can spread to the lymph nodes, bones and other parts of the body. It is the most common cause of death in elderly men over 75 years of age.
The treatment of prostate cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and the overall health status of the patient and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Surgery is the gold standard for the treatment of prostate cancer. It involves the complete removal of the cancerous prostate gland and also helps confirm the diagnosis, by biopsy, and ascertain the need for any additional therapy.
Surgery for prostate cancer can be done either through open approach (a large incision over the abdomen) or through laparoscopy (few small holes over the abdomen). However, a common problem faced by the patient after surgery, with either of the approaches, is a loss of bladder control and erectile dysfunction.
Robotic prostate cancer surgery is a new advanced laparoscopic approach that overcomes the limitations of the traditional open surgery as well as the laparoscopic approach. It enables the surgeon to perform the complex surgery through tiny incisions, with precision and ease, improving the outcome and reducing complications.
Robotic prostate cancer surgery involves two machines, a control unit or the surgeon’s console and a patient unit. The surgeon sits at the control unit, away from the operating table, and controls the movement of the four robotic arms of the patient unit, present near the operating table. One of the robotic armsholds and positions a 3D high definition camera through the incision in the operated area providing images of the operation site to the surgeon at the control unit. These images are high resolution 3D images, superior to the 2D images in the laparoscopic approach. Moreover, the images can also be magnified by 10 to 12 times. The other three robotic arms are used to hold small miniature instruments, which are used for the surgery. These instruments are introduced through the tiny (1-2cm) incisions over the patient’s abdomen. These miniature instruments are more flexible compared to the long handled rigid instruments of the traditional laparoscopic surgery. A wide range of these instruments are available to the surgeon to perform various specialized surgical tasks.
The robotic arm cannot be programmed to do the surgery on its own. Instead, it translates the surgeon’s hand movements, at the control unit, into precise movements of the micro-instruments in the operation site, minimizing tremors that may occur from unintended shaking of the surgeon’s hands. The enhanced vision and superior control of the micro-instruments helps in precise removal of the prostate without damaging the nerve fibres and the blood vessels near it, which are critical for the maintenance of bladder control and erectile function. Nerve sparing, however, is not possible in patients with an advanced cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. Precise removal of the cancerous tissue with a border of healthy tissue reduces the chances of recurrence of the prostate cancer. Thus robotic prostate cancer surgery provides a novel treatment approach for the management of prostate cancer with a quicker recovery and control of sexual and urinary function, in most patients. It also provides additional benefits of less blood loss, less pain, shorter hospital stay, faster return to normal routine activities and a lower incidence of complications.
Talk to your doctor for any unanswered queries on robotic prostate cancer surgery and what to expect from the surgery in individual cases.