Prostatectomy is surgical removal of part of the prostate gland (transurethral resection, a procedure performed to relieve urinary symptoms caused by benign enlargement), or all of the prostate (radical prostatectomy, the curative surgery most often used to treat prostate cancer).
When men reach their mid-40s, the prostate gland begins to enlarge. This condition, benign prostatic hyper-plasia (BPH) is present in more than half of men in their 60s and as many as 90% of those over 90. Because the prostate surrounds the urethra, the tube leading urine from the bladder out of the body, the enlarging prostate narrows this passage and makes urination difficult. The bladder
Prostate cancer is the single most common form of non-skin cancer in the United States and the most common cancer in men over 50. Half of men over 70 and almost all men over the age of 90 have prostate cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 198, 000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2001. This condition does not always require surgery. In fact, many elderly men adopt a policy of "watchful waiting, " especially if their cancer is growing slowly. Younger men often elect to have their prostate gland totally removed along with the cancer it contains—an operation called radical prostatectomy. The two main types of this surgery, radical retropubic prostatectomy and radical perineal prostatectomy, are performed only on patients whose cancer is limited to the prostate. If cancer has broken out of the capsule surrounding the prostate gland and spread in the area or to distant sites, removing the prostate will not prevent the remaining cancer from growing and spreading throughout the body.
Open (incisional) prostatectomy for cancer should not be done if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, as serious side effects may occur without the benefit of removing all the cancer. If the bladder is retaining urine, it is necessary to insert a catheter before starting surgery. Patients should be in the best possible general condition before radical prostatectomy. Before surgery, the bladder is inspected using an instrument called a cystoscope to help determine the best surgical technique to use, and to rule out other local problems.
This procedure does not require an abdominal incision. With the patient under either general or spinal anesthesia, a cutting instrument or heated wire loop is inserted to remove as much prostate tissue as possible and seal blood vessels. The excised tissue is washed into the bladder, then flushed out at the end of the operation. A catheter is left in the bladder for one to five days to drain urine and blood. Advanced laser technology enables surgeons to safely and effectively burn off excess prostate tissue blocking the bladder opening with fewer of the early and late complications associated with other forms of prostate surgery. This procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis, but urinary symptoms do not improve until swelling subsides several weeks after surgery.
RADICAL RETROPUBIC PROSTATECTOMY.
This is a useful approach if the prostate is very large, or cancer is suspected. With the patient under general or spinal anesthesia or an epidural, a horizontal incision is made in the center of the lower abdomen. Some surgeons begin the operation by removing pelvic lymph nodes to determine whether cancer has invaded them, but recent findings suggest there is no need to sample them in patients whose likelihood of lymph node metastases is less than 18%. A doctor who removes the lymph nodes for examination will not continue the operation if they contain cancer cells, because the surgery will not cure the patient. Other surgeons remove the prostate gland before examining the lymph nodes. A tube (catheter) inserted into the penis to drain fluid from the body is left in place for 14-21 days.
Originally, this operation also removed a thin rim of bladder tissue in the area of the urethral sphincter—a muscular structure that keeps urine from escaping from the bladder. In addition, the nerves supplying the penis often were damaged, and many men found themselves impotent (unable to achieve erections) after prostatectomy. A newer surgical method called potency-sparing radical prostatectomy preserves sexual potency in 75% of patients and fewer than 5% become incontinent following this procedure.
RADICAL PERINEAL PROSTATECTOMY.
This procedure is just as curative as radical retropubic prostatectomy but is performed less often because it does not allow the surgeon to spare the nerves associated with erection or, because the incision is made above the rectum and below the scrotum, to remove lymph nodes. Radical perineal prostatectomy is sometimes used when the cancer is limited to the prostate and there is no need to spare nerves or when the patient's health might be compromised by the longer procedure. The perineal operation is less invasive than retropubic prostatectomy. Some parts of the prostate can be seen better, and blood loss is limited. The absence of an abdominal incision allows patients to recover more
Also called cryotherapy or cryoablation, this minimally invasive procedure uses very low temperatures to freeze and destroy cancer cells in and around the prostate gland. A catheter circulates warm fluid through the urethra to protect it from the cold. When used in connection with ultrasound imaging, cryosurgery permits very precise tissue destruction. Traditionally used only in patients whose cancer had not responded to radiation, but now approved by Medicare as a primary treatment for prostate cancer, cryosurgery can safely be performed on older men, on patients who are not in good enough general health to undergo radical prostatectomy, or to treat recurrent disease. Recent studies have shown that total cryosurgery, which destroys the prostate, is at least as effective as radical prostatectomy without the trauma of major surgery.
As with any type of major surgery done under general anesthesia, the patient should be in optimal condition. Most patients having prostatectomy are in the age range when cardiovascular problems are frequent, making it especially important to be sure that the heart is beating strongly, and that the patient is not retaining too much fluid. Because long-standing prostate disease may cause kidney problems from urine "backing up, " it also is necessary to be sure that the kidneys are working properly. If not, a period of catheter drainage may be necessary before doing the surgery.
Following TURP, a catheter is placed in the bladder to drain urine and remains in place for two to three days. A solution is used to irrigate the bladder and urethra until the urine is clear of blood, usually within 48 hours after surgery. Whether antibiotics should be routinely given remains an open question. Catheter drainage also is used after open prostatectomy. The bladder is irrigated only if blood clots block the flow of urine through the catheter. Patients are given intravenous fluids for the first 24 hours, to ensure good urine flow. Patients resting in bed for long periods are prone to blood clots in their legs (which can pass to the lungs and cause serious breathing problems). This can be prevented by elastic stockings and by periodically exercising the patient's legs. The patient remains in the hospital one to two days following surgery and can return to work in one to two weeks.
The complications and side effects that may occur during and after prostatectomy include:
- Excessive bleeding, which in rare cases may require blood transfusion.
- Incontinence when, during retropubic prostatectomy, the muscular valve (sphincter) that keeps urine in the bladder is damaged. Less common today, when care is taken not to injure the sphincter.
- Impotence, occurring when nerves to the penis are injured during the retropubic operation. Today's "nervesparing" technique has drastically cut down on this problem.
- Some patients who receive a large volume of irrigating fluid after TURP develop high blood pressure, vomiting, trouble with their vision, and mental confusion. This condition is caused by a low salt level in the blood, and is reversed by giving salt solution.
- A permanent narrowing of the urethra, called a stricture, occasionally develops when the urethra is damaged during TURP.
In patients with BPH who have the TURP operation, urination should become much easier and less frequent, and dribbling or incontinence should cease. In patients having radical prostatectomy for cancer, a successful operation will remove the tumor and prevent its spread to other areas of the body (metastasis). If examination of lymph nodes shows that cancer already had spread beyond the prostate at the time of surgery, other measures are available to control the tumor.
Responding to spoken instructions, a specially engineered robot has assisted in more than 500 operations to remove the prostate glands of cancer patients. Used by surgeons in the United States and Europe, the AESOP system is the first surgical robot approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By positioning a slender optical tube (endoscope) that is passed through the patient's body, the robotic arm allows the surgeon to view the minimally invasive surgery on a video monitor and use both hands to improve surgical precision and results while minimizing side effects. Patients spend about 12 hours in the hospital and return to work within two days.
Early findings released by the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study (PCOS) confirm that radical prostatectomy results in significant sexual dysfunction and some loss of urinary control. Initiated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1994, PCOS is the first systematic evaluation of how primary cancer treatments affect patients' quality of life.
Marks, Sheldon. Prostate Vancer: A Family Guide to Diagno sis, Treatment and Survival. Cambridge, MA: Fisher Books, 2000.
Wainrib, Barbara, et al. Men, Women, and Prostate Cancer: A Medical and Psychological Guide for Women and the Men they Love. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2000.
Prostate Health Council. American Foundation for Urologic Disease. 1128 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201-5559. (800) 828-7866. <http://www.afud.org>.
Cancer Research Institute. 681 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10022. (800) 99CANCER. <http://www.cancerresearch.org>.
National Prostate Cancer Coalition. 1156 15th St., NW, Wash ington, DC 20005. (202) 463-9455. <www.4npcc.org>.
David A. Cramer, M.D.
—Benign prostatic hypertrophy, a very common, noncancerous cause of prostatic enlargement in older men.
—A tube that is placed through the urethra into the bladder in order to provide free drainage of urine and blood following either TUR or open prostatectomy.
—In prostatectomy, the use of a very low-temperature probe to freeze and thereby destroy prostatic tissue.
—The inability to achieve and sustain penile erections.
—The inability to retain urine in the bladder until a person is ready to urinate voluntarily.
—The gland surrounding the male urethra just below the base of the bladder. It secretes a fluid that constitutes a major portion of the semen.
—The tube running from the bladder to the tip of the penis that provides a passage for eliminating urine from the body.