New breed of 'surgery robots' used in battle to beat cancer
While the majority of men who are recommended to undergo surgery for prostate cancer chose to do so, a minority opt not to go ahead with the procedure. These, typically, are men in their 70s and 80s who have to reconcile the benefits of surgery with the likely side-effects, such as incontinence, and to consider all of that in light of their age.
"Much of medicine is about weighing up the risk," the Irish Cancer Society's head of research, Dr Robert O'Connor, says. "It's not as black and while as the public might think."
But for those who do go down the surgery route, advancements in techniques are helping to minimise the chances of debilitating side effects. Leading the charge is a new breed of 'surgery robots', such as the Da Vinci XI, developed by aerospace agency Nasa, and currently in Dublin's Blackrock Clinic. The private hospital is one of a number of Irish facilities that use robotic 'arms' for prostate surgery, including University Hospital Limerick and the Galway Clinic.
"There are huge benefits attached to robotic surgery for both patients and surgical teams," says Emer MacNeice, marketing manager at Blackrock Clinic.
"The robotic instruments are able to move with far greater dexterity than human joints and rigid instruments. The surgeon works from a relaxed position with substantial magnification, which reduces human hand tremor. The images on the screen are 3D.
"Benefits to patients are less blood loss, reduced pain, shorter hospital stays and improved patient outcomes as tracked by Intuitive Surgical (the company who developed this state-of-the-art surgical platform) over the last 16 years."
But a study published in the Lancet medical journal in July indicated that there was little difference between robotic and non-robotic prostate surgeries
"The first randomised controlled trial to directly compare robotic surgery with open surgery for patients with localised prostate cancer finds that robotic and open surgery achieve similar results in terms of key quality of life indicators at three months," the study said.