The prostate surgery that won’t harm your sex life: New technique could spare men from the cruel side-effect of impotency
- Each year around 47,000 British men are diagnosed with prostate cancer
- Some patients turn down surgery because of the potential negative side-effects
- Scientists hope new technique will be available on the NHS within five years
Prostate cancer victims could be spared the cruel side-effect of impotency thanks to a pioneering surgical technique.
Men with aggressive forms of the disease usually have the gland removed – but the operation can damage nerves that are vital to sexual function.
The new technique, which limits this damage, has been developed by British scientists who hope it will be available on the NHS within five years. They say the results of a three-year trial involving 400 patients have been very promising.
Each year around 47,000 British men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 11,000 die from the disease. Some patients, especially younger men, turn down surgery because of the potential side-effects and then go on to develop incurable cancer.
Prostate cancer victims could be spared the cruel side-effect of impotency thanks to a pioneering surgical technique (stock image)
The Daily Mail is campaigning for improved treatments and quicker diagnosis because both lag years behind other diseases such as breast cancer.
Around 6,000 men have prostatectomies every year – and the vast majority go on to experience impotence and incontinence. Greg Shaw, who is leading the trial at University College London, said: ‘Almost all men who have had prostate surgery suffer nerve damage. This damages their sex life and means they are not able to have full erections. This new technique should allow men who have surgery to remove their prostate to remain sexually active.’
The Daily Mail is campaigning for improved treatments and quicker diagnosis because both lag years behind other diseases such as breast cancer
While the patient is under anaesthetic on the operating table, the removed prostate is analysed under a microscope by a pathologist. If no cancer is detected in the area adjoining the nerves, the ‘all clear’ is given and the operation finishes.
If cancer is found, the surgeon removes the nerves to ensure that all cancerous cells are removed. In contrast, under existing procedures, doctors have no way of knowing for certain whether nerve cells have cancer and are more likely to remove them to be on the safe side.
Mr Shaw said: ‘The tendency is to not spare the nerves if there is thought to be a risk of leaving cancer behind. We know that nerve-sparing works. The more nerve tissue is left behind, the greater a man’s chances of being potent after surgery.
‘If we can’t leave the nerves at all, they’re extremely unlikely to be potent, even with Viagra.’
Mr Shaw launched the trial after seeing two young men end up with untreatable cancer after deciding against surgery.
Men with aggressive forms of the disease usually have the gland removed – but the operation can damage nerves that are vital to sexual function (stock image)
The consultant urological surgeon said: ‘They chose not to have surgery because they were so scared of the side-effects. But the cancer spread, meaning it was no longer curable. They are going to die of that cancer.’
The procedure is being offered in London, Bristol, Sheffield and Glasgow. The trial will test if it is clinically effective and suitable for the NHS. It is the first time the technique has been tried anywhere in the world.
Dr David Montgomery, who is director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘For too many men with potentially curable prostate cancer, their treatment either fails to eradicate their cancer or causes side effects such as erectile dysfunction.
‘Research like this is a potential win-win, as it aims to increase the number of men being cured while at the same time reducing the number needing further treatment or suffering from reduced sexual function.
‘We at Prostate Cancer UK believe research into treatments which cure more and harm less is crucially important.
‘That’s why we will continue to fund research of this type now and in the future.’