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«Overview A radical prostatectomy is a surgical procedure whereby the prostate gland is removed. Lymph nodes near the prostate can be removed at the ...»

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Radical Prostatectomy – A Patient Guide

Department of Urology

UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

University of California, San Francisco


A radical prostatectomy is a surgical procedure whereby the prostate gland is removed. Lymph

nodes near the prostate can be removed at the same time. Radical prostatectomy is one option for

men with clinically localized prostate cancer. Potential advantages include the following: 1) removal

of the prostate and analysis by a pathologist allows accurate assessment of cancer aggressiveness (stage and grade); 2) follow-up after surgery is straightforward: the serum PSA (prostate specific antigen) level should be undetectable, and recurrence of cancer is relatively easy to detect because of this; 3) radiation can be given after surgery, if necessary, with a relatively low risk of any additional side effects; and 4) surgery appears to be associated with a very limited risk of late (i.e. beyond 5 years) local recurrence if careful and sensitive PSA testing is performed. Patients who are in good health, have a long life expectancy and have cancers which appear to be confined to the prostate gland are candidates for radical prostatectomy. Some men with more advanced cancers may benefit from the procedure as well. The procedure is associated with certain side effects, although major complications are very rare. Many men may be candidates for a “nerve-sparing” radical prostatectomy whereby sexual function may be preserved.

What is the prostate gland and where is it located?

The prostate is a male gland which is normally the size of a walnut (about 20-25 grams). It is located behind the pubic bone and below the bladder and surrounds the upper portion of the urethra (canal that drains urine from the bladder). The prostate gland lies in front of the rectum, and part of its surface can be felt during a rectal examination. Adjacent to the prostate are the seminal vesicles, two small glands which are also removed during radical prostatectomy.

The function of the prostate and seminal vesicles is to secrete most of the fluid which, together with sperm, constitutes semen.

1 What is a radical prostatectomy?

A radical prostatectomy is surgery to remove the entire prostate gland and seminal vesicles and, on occasion, regional lymph nodes after a diagnosis of prostate cancer is made. Radical prostatectomy is one of many options for the treatment of prostate cancer. You should discuss all options with your physician.

Radical prostatectomy can be done via an incision made in the abdomen (“radical retropubic prostatectomy”) or in the perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus (“radical perineal prostatectomy”). Alternatively, it may be done with laparoscopy (“laparoscopic radical prostatectomy”). Laparoscopy is a technique in which surgery is performed by making small incisions and passing specially designed telescopes and instruments into the body. Laparoscopic radical prostatectomy is a relatively new technique, which may result in less discomfort and earlier return to work. At UCSF we perform laparoscopic radical prostatectomies using a robotic surgical system called the da Vinci® robot. The system features magnification and surgical precision. Outcomes in terms of cancer control, urinary function and sexual function are generally similar to a radical retropubic prostatectomy. The robotic approach has been modified based on our large experience with open surgery in order to optimize outcomes. The subtle differences between the procedures can be discussed with your surgeon. At UCSF, the majority of procedures are done using a robotic approach for the following reasons: the robotic approach appears to able to remove the prostate cancer equally as well as the open approach, it is associated with somewhat less blood loss and an earlier return to normal activities and may be associated with an enhanced ability to spare the neurovascular bundles. However, selected patients, usually those with more advanced cancers, may benefit from the open approach.

In addition to removing the prostate gland, the lymph nodes in the area of the prostate may be removed either before or during the same operation. This is done to determine if the prostate cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This procedure is called "pelvic lymph node dissection." The risk of having cancer in the lymph node can be estimated and only men with a moderate or high risk of pelvic lymph node metastases need to undergo pelvic lymph node dissection. Criteria for lymph node dissection vary, but may include high grade (Gleason pattern 4 or 5), higher PSA values and/or possible extra-prostatic disease based on preoperative ultrasound.

Why would I choose to have a radical prostatectomy?

Radical prostatectomy is one of several options for men whose prostate cancer still appears to be localized to the prostate. It allows, in most cases, for complete removal of the cancer. Once the prostate is removed, one can tell how advanced the cancer is, what the risk for cancer recurrence is and whether or not additional treatment may be needed. It is relatively easy to follow men who have undergone radical prostatectomy to be sure their cancer is gone. Once the prostate is removed, PSA should fall to undetectable levels within six weeks. Radiation can be given after surgery, if necessary, with a relatively limited risk of any additional side effects.

Patients who choose radical prostatectomy should be in very good health, have a life expectancy exceeding 10 years, have cancers that appear to be localized to the prostate gland and have discussed all available treatment options with their doctors. Some men with prostate cancer extending beyond the prostate gland may be candidates for the procedure as well. Radical prostatectomy may occasionally be an option when prostate cancer recurs after radiation or other treatments. This approach ("salvage prostatectomy") carries higher risks of side effects, and should be considered carefully.

2 What will happen before surgery?

Before surgery, a number of tests will be performed to determine the extent of the disease. These tests include blood tests, transrectal ultrasound, and a prostate biopsy. In selected patients, a bone scan and a CT or MRI scan of the abdomen and pelvis may be done. You will have a physical examination performed and discuss the various types of anesthesia with anesthesiologists. This visit will be arranged by your doctor and will occur the week before surgery. You will be admitted to the hospital on the day of your surgery. However, you may begin a “bowel prep” at home on the day before your surgery. This is done to cleanse the bowel and may consist of a clear liquid diet, medication to promote bowel movements, and/or an enema. This is a routine preparation done before many types of abdominal and pelvic surgery.

What type of anesthesia should I have and do I need to donate blood?

There are various types of anesthesia. General anesthesia is a technique whereby the anesthesiologists give medication, which allows patients to be “asleep” or unconscious during the procedure. Spinal or epidural anesthesia are techniques whereby medication is instilled into the space around the spinal cord. Epidural anesthesia allows for the delivery of medication postoperatively through a small tube or catheter in the back, resulting in continuous levels of pain medication. The techniques may be combined. Most UCSF radical prostatectomy patients do not require spinal or epidural anesthesia; we normally use general anesthesia with ketorolac, an anti-inflammatory medication, after surgery. With the laparoscopic approach, general anesthesia is required.

Donation of autologous blood (your own blood) is offered to patients, but given the limited blood loss noted by most experienced surgeons, it may not be necessary. This limited blood loss tends to be even less with laparoscopic (robotic-assisted) surgery. If you do wish to donate blood, 1 to 2 units of blood can be stored and used at the time of surgery if it is necessary.

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3 Radical prostatectomy At the time of radical prostatectomy, the entire prostate gland and seminal vesicles are removed.

The seminal vesicles are glandular structures lying next to the prostate which may be invaded by prostate cancer. Once the prostate gland and seminal vesicles are removed, the bladder is reattached to the urethra. A catheter is left in the bladder to allow drainage of urine while healing takes place. In addition, a “drain” (tube that drains fluid accumulations) is left in place for one or two days.

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Duration of hospitalization

The three goals which must be met in most cases before you may return home after surgery are:

• Pain control with oral medications

• Tolerating solid food

• Walking unassisted After either open or laparoscopic prostatectomy most men are well enough to go home the next day after surgery. Some will stay a second day, especially if the surgery finished later in the day.

Drains and dressings All abdominal incisions are usually closed with absorbable suture, so no sutures or clips need to be removed. The incisions are covered with bandages called Steri-strips which help keep them closed while the skin heals. These usually fall off in the shower in one to two weeks, and can be removed if not gone by two weeks. Covering the Steri-strips will be gauze dressings with paper or clear plastic tape;

these can be removed 48 hours after surgery. Laparoscopic incisions may be dressed with a bioglue or band-aids instead of traditional bandages. The glue will gradually wear away, within a week or two.

Managing pain Both open and laparoscopic (robot-assisted) prostatectomies are generally tolerated with relatively little pain. After surgery you will receive an anti-inflammatory medication called ketorolac (Toradol), which is similar to ibuprofen (Motrin), unless you have a history of stomach ulcers or kidney dysfunction. For some men, this is sufficient. If you do have pain, you may receive oral narcotic tablets, usually Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetominophen), and if your pain is more severe you can receive intravenous hydromorphone (Dilaudid), which is similar to morphine. Narcotics, both oral and intravenous, can cause nausea and drowsiness and tend to slow bowel function, so you should use only as much of these medications as you need. On the other hand, it is important to make sure your pain is controlled enough not just to lay in bed, but also to take deep breaths, cough and walk. It is easier to stay ahead of postoperative pain than to try to catch up once in severe pain, so make sure you ask for pain medicine early if needed. The same guidelines apply when you go home with medication (usually Vicodin) for pain. If you feel you are not getting adequate pain relief, please feel free to discuss this with your nurse or doctor. Each person’s experience of pain is different, and although we may not be able to completely eliminate all of your discomfort, we want you to be as comfortable as possible after your surgery.

Bathing Your nurse will assist you with a daily sponge or bed bath. Showers are permitted after the dressings have been removed, usually within two or three days. Do not take a bath, swim, or otherwise soak the incisions for four weeks to avoid having the sutures absorb more quickly than they should.

5 What you can do to help To prevent complications, such as pneumonia and blood clots, you will be encouraged to do three things as soon as possible after surgery: walk, use your incentive spirometer (a small disposable device which encourages deep breathing) and do your leg exercises. The nurses will instruct you on how to use the spirometer and do leg exercises, and will assist you in walking after surgery until you can manage on your own. While in bed you will have compression devices on your legs which squeeze intermittently to prevent blood clots. You can remove them only once you are walking regularly.

Going home: what to expect Diet and exercise It is normal to feel tired for several weeks after your surgery. Make sure someone drives you home from the hospital. Get plenty of rest, eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein and iron, and do some light exercise (such as walking) every day. You should drink at least two to three liters of fluids each day, and monitor the color of the urine in the catheter tubing (not the bag). The urine should be clear or light yellow. If the color is dark yellow or light red you should drink more fluids. Do not do any heavy lifting (more than 10 to 20 pounds) or strenuous exercise for two to four weeks following surgery.

You can increase your exercise schedule gradually thereafter. Light exercise such as walking, jogging and stretching should be done initially. Golf or tennis can be played within two to three weeks. If you feel comfortable, you can increase your activity. Heavy abdominal exercise, such as sit-ups as well as cycling on an upright bicycle, should be avoided for six weeks. It is important that you do exercise that you feel comfortable with. Any activity that causes pain should be avoided.

Driving Driving is usually permitted after the catheter is removed if you feel comfortable, are taking no narcotic pain medication and can twist your torso quickly to look over your shoulder without significant pain.

Caring for the incision The incision for an open prostatectomy runs from above the base of the pubic area to well below the navel. The key words here are “clean” and “dry,” showering once a day should do it. If you notice extreme or increasing tenderness, progressive swelling, more than a small amount of drainage (i.e.

teaspoon) or any pus or redness, notify your doctor right away. Incisions from laparoscopic radical prostatectomy are smaller, but more numerous. They should be cared for similarly.

Going home with a catheter You will be discharged from the hospital with a catheter in place to drain urine from the bladder into a bag. The balloon port of the catheter should be secured to the leg with a Stat-lock at all times. Should the catheter fall out or malfunction you should call your urologist and not allow an emergency department or other non-urology physician to replace or manipulate the catheter. A large bag should be used at night and while at home to allow for better drainage. The leg bag should be used when out and about. The doctor will remove the catheter in the office in five to 14 days.

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