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Want To Increase Your Odds Of Remaining Cancer Free Following Prostate Cancer Surgery? Start By Finding A Highly Experienced Surgeon.

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Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American men. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be about 219,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States in 2007. The most common treatment for early stage prostate cancer is a surgical procedure called Radical Prostatectomy. Radical Prostatectomy is where the surgeon takes out the prostate and some surrounding tissue in an effort to remove the cancer entirely and prevent it from spreading.

Radical prostatectomy "is a very, very difficult, complex operation” according to Andrew Vickers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Vickers is a researcher and a co-author of a study “that documented the learning curve doctors face as they perform operations over and over.” The study, which tracked the outcome of 7,765 radical prostatectomy patients, found a statistically significant association between surgical experience and the probability of patients being cancer free after five years.

The study found that surgeons who had performed 250 Radical Prostatectomies over their career had the best outcomes, i.e., patients without a recurrence after five years, when compared to surgeons that had performed fewer than 250 such procedures. After 250 cases, the improvement in surgical outcome did not improve regardless of how many more times a surgeon did the procedure. What’s unusual about this study is that it is one of the first such studies in cancer to clearly link surgical experience to patient outcomes.

As reported in the study, men whose doctors had performed the surgery only 10 times in their careers were about 70 percent more likely to suffer a recurrence of prostate cancer within five years than men whose surgeons had performed it 250 times.

In an interview associated with the release of the study findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vickers addressed a cautionary note to prostate cancer patients considering Radical Prostatectomy. According to Vickers, "a very large proportion of the physicians doing these procedures essentially will never get up the learning curve because…they do not specialize in it and only do the operation only a few times a year.”

Take Aways of this Posting

- If a Radical Prostatectomy is in your future, ask your referring physician for the names of several surgeons. Call each of the surgeons and ask them, or more likely their office staff, how many of the surgical procedures the doctor has performed over the course of his/her career to date. Remember...the goal is to find a surgeon that has performed 250 or more Radical Prostatectomies.

- If you can’t find a local surgeon with enough experience, look for a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated Comprehensive Cancer Program in your State. Contact the program and ask for the names of surgeons that specialize in Urology and find one that has done at 250 or more Radical Prostatectomies.


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About the Author


BA, MPH

Steve shares what he learned from his personal experience with cancer.

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