Robots as 'good as human surgeons' major trial finds
Surgery performed by robots is just as successful as operations carried out by surgeons, a major trial has found.
The study of prostate cancer patients found those whose gland was removed by a machine were doing as well after three months as those who went under the knife in the traditional way.
They experienced less pain doing day to day activities a week later, and reported better overall physical quality of life after six weeks, but this levelled out over time.
Those undergoing robot surgery also lost far less blood and spent less time in hospital.
There was no difference in urinary and sexual function, or the number of complications, the research published in the Lancet found.
Robotic surgery has become increasingly common in the UK and Ireland over the last decade.
Most common is the da Vinci robot, a set of robotic arms controlled by a human surgeon sitting a few feet away.
A high magnification 3D camera allows the surgeon to see inside the patient's body through a keyhole incision.
The camera is attached to one of four arms on the machine - the other three hold other surgical instruments needed during the operation.
The machines undertake operations for a variety of common complaints, from the removal of kidney and bladder cancers to basic heart surgery.
Their main use is in surgical removal of the prostate gland, called a prostatectomy, in men with prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer in men01`.
In 2012, 1,595 of these operations were carried out in the UK using robots - 29 per cent of the total performed.
The Australian trial examined quality of life outcomes for 308 men with prostate cancer, half of whom were randomly assigned to receive robot assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy, while half had open surgery.
Patients who underwent open surgery lost on average three times more blood, although no transfusions were needed because it was recycled back.
Urinary and sexual function can continue to improve for up to three years, so differences between the groups may become apparent later on, researchers said.
A million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer worldwide each year, including more than 47,000 in the UK.
Professor Robert 'Frank' Gardiner, of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, said: "Many clinicians claim the benefits of robotic technology lead to improved quality of life and oncological outcomes. Our randomised trial, the first of its kind, found no statistical difference in quality of life outcomes between the two groups at 12 weeks follow up."
He said further follow-up would examine longer-term outcomes, including on cancer survival.