‘Robot surgery’ could save men from prostate cancer

The £1 million machines, known as Da Vinci robots, have performed life-saving surgery at University College London Hospitals on more than 500 men with advanced prostate cancer.

Surgeons have praised the pioneering use of robots in saving a record number of men from one of the UK’s deadliest cancers. Surgeons credit them with being quicker, safer and the procedures have fewer side effects than existing treatments in a move that has been described as a ‘game changer’.

Many men delay prostate cancer treatment over fears they may suffer incurable erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease in men and the second biggest killer in men after lung cancer, causing 11,300 UK deaths a year.

The procedures carried out by Da Vinci robots are said to be quicker and safer and bring fewer side effects

An internal 3D camera displays instantaneous images to the surgeon’s high-definition console

David Ferris, a Londoner with ‘aggressive’ prostate cancer underwent robotic surgery to remove his prostate at University Collage London Hospital carried out by consultant urological surgeon Greg Shaw

‘It gives men their lives back after prostate cancer’ 

Professor John Kelly, clinical lead for urology at University College London Hospitals at Westmoreland Street hospital, said: ‘Although [conventional] surgery removes the cancerous tumour, patients are left with life-changing after-effects like incontinence and impotence, which can be devastating.

‘Robotic surgery has changed that – it gives us the precision to remove the cancerous tumour, preserving the tissues and functions around it.

‘It gives men their lives back after prostate cancer.’

A surgeon ‘drives’ the robot with his hands and feet, manipulating its tiny scissors and pliers inside the patient

The £1 million machines have been called a ‘game changer’ for prostate cancer treatment

The number of operations carried out by UCLH is expected to exceed 600 by the end of the year; the most ever performed by an NHS hospital in a year.


Prostate cancer does not normally cause symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra.

This normally results in problems associated with urination.

Symptoms can include:

  • Needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night
  • Needing to rush to the toilet
  • Difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • Straining or taking a long time while urinating
  • Weak flow
  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully

Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older due to a non-cancerous condition known as prostate enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Symptoms that the cancer may have spread include bone and back pain, a loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unexplained weight loss.

Two Da Vinci robots are currently available and in use six days a week. Westmoreland Street hospital performs prostate surgery previously carried out at hospitals including Whipps Cross, Homerton, North Middlesex, Queen’s in Romford and Princess Alexandra in Harlow as part of the NHS’ move to promote optimal cancer care.

Patients are able to go home the next day rather than spending 18 days in hospital following conventional surgery. The latest Da Vinci Xi robot has been in use in several London hospitals, including the Royal Marsden and Guy’s, since 2015.

Reduces painful biopsies

Prostate cancer sufferer David Ferris, 66, an activist and political researcher, underwent the robot-controlled surgery, which first involved him having an MRI scan ahead of a biopsy. The painful biopsy, which involves inserting a needle into the prostate to collect cells, can therefore be performed more accurately.

Mr Ferris opted to have his prostate removed around six months ago after his previously slow-growing cancer from two years ago starting becoming more aggressive. The operation was successful and Mr Ferris is heading home today, the Evening Standard reported.


Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Greg Shaw, a consultant at UCLH, explained how the Da Vinci robot works.

He said: ‘The Da Vinci robot operates through what we call a “master-slave system”, in which the surgeon drives the robot, while comfortably sat in a seat.

‘It emulates the surgeon’s movements, so if he moves his hand, the robot moves in the same way.

‘You can have graspers or scissors that open and close with the same degree of freedom as the human hand.’

The robot has three arms with different instruments, and the surgeon can choose which two to operate at any one time. It is also equipped with a camera with 10 times magnification and 3D vision that goes inside the patient, allowing the surgeon to see precisely what he/she is doing.

Dr Shaw explained: ‘It’s basically keyhole surgery, in that the instruments pass through little cuts in the abdomen wall, but it’s much more precise with a wider range of movements.’

While prostate surgery used to take three hours, this time is cut down to just 90 minutes with the Da Vinci robot.

Dr Shaw explained: ‘With the robot, there’s less blood loss, so your surgical view is better.

‘The surgeon can also choose the optimal position without have to move from his seat.’

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