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Robotic surgery for prostate cancer

Read about robotic surgery for prostate cancer. 

What is robotic surgery?

Robotic assisted prostatectomy is a way of doing surgery for prostate cancer. It is a type of keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. It is also called da Vinci surgery.

A surgeon does the surgery but uses a special machine (robot) to help. It is not available at all cancer hospitals in the UK.

We don't yet know whether robotic assisted surgery is better than other types of surgery for prostate cancer or whether it is cost effective.

You have robotic assisted surgery in an operating theatre under a general anaesthetic.

Doctors need to have special training before they can carry out this type of surgery. It involves 2 machines. The patient unit and the control unit. 

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The patient unit

You lie on the operating table and the patient unit is beside you. The unit has 4 arms. One arm holds the camera and the others hold the surgical instruments.

The surgeon makes 5 small cuts in your abdomen. The camera and instruments are put in through the cuts to do the surgery. The patient unit is controlled by the control unit.

The control unit

The control unit is where the surgeon sits. It is in the operating theatre with you but is separate from the patient unit.

The surgeon can see the operating area on a screen. This gives the surgeon a 3D view that they can magnify up to 10 to 12 times.

Below the screen are the controls. The surgeon uses these master controls to move the instruments on the patient unit.

This turns any movements the surgeon makes into much smaller movements of the machine. It also reduces any shaking, allowing the surgeon to make very tiny, accurate movements. Cutting and putting in stitches is easier with the robotic assistance. 

Research into robotic surgery

Surgeons only started using these machines in 2000. A systematic review in early 2007 found that it was as good at removing the cancer as other types of surgery.

We don’t yet know how well these men do long term, compared to men having regular prostate cancer surgery.

In the review, robotic surgery had the same advantages as laparoscopic prostate surgery when compared to the standard open operation to remove the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy).

 There was:

  • less bleeding
  • less scarring
  • a shorter stay in hospital
  • quicker recovery

The review also found that if the surgeon was experienced, the operation appears to be as good as the standard radical prostatectomy in removing cancer with a border of healthy tissue (clear margin).

Some studies in the review found that men were more likely to get their bladder control back quickly after this type of surgery.

They were also able to get an erection again sooner. The studies were small and weren’t randomised, so we don't yet know for certain if it is better than standard surgery at reducing the number of men who have side effects.

The usual way of having your prostate removed is either through:

  • a cut in your abdomen (retropubic prostatectomy)
  • a cut between your testicles and your back passage (perineal prostatectomy)
  • keyhole surgery (laparoscopic)
Last reviewed: 
17 Mar 2014
  • Cancer and principles and practices of oncology (10th edition), VT Devita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015.

  • Cancer and its management, Tobias and others. 6th Ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010

  • Evidence from robot-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy: a systematic review. V Ficarra and others. European Urology. 2007 Jan;51(1): pages 45-55.

  • Vattikuti Institute prostatectomy: contemporary technique and analysis of results. M Menon and others. European Urology. 2007 Mar;51(3):pages 648-57.

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