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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Robotic prostate surgery launched
da vinci
The da Vinci system in operation
Surgeons at a London hospital have begun using a robot to help them carry out delicate prostate operations.

The team from St Mary's Hospital, led by Mr Anup Patel, operated on 61-year-old Anthony Reed, from Eastbourne in Sussex on Thursday.

The operation was a success and the keyhole method used meant that he has only small scars on his abdomen.

The surgeons used the "da Vinci" system to carry out the operation.

This has three robotic arms, which are operated remotely by the surgeon using joysticks.

The arms are passed into the body through an opening only half an inch across.

The surgeon gets a three-dimensional image of what is happening because one of the arms carries two tiny cameras.

Normal keyhole surgery of this type requires immense skill on the part of the surgeon because of the way his instruments are positioned in order to fit them through the tiny gap in the skin.

One of the advantages of the system is that it "translates" the movements of surgeon into very steady, accurate manipulations at the other end.

Precise touch

Precision is vital during prostate surgery because the gland lies close to nerves which control the bladder and sexual function.

Any slips can mean impotence, incontinence, or both for the patient.

The robot eliminates the natural shaking experienced by even the steadiest surgeon, and is accurate to tenths of a millimetre.


I didn't hesitate for a moment when they explained how the operation would be done

Anthony Reed
More and more men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer and other prostate problems which may need surgery, but doctors and patients are often reluctant to go down that route because of the risks of surgery.

Mr Reed was enthusiastic about his "guinea-pig" operation.

He told the Times: "The whole team did an amazing job.

"I didn't hesitate for a moment when they explained how the operation would be done."

Robot-assisted surgery is gaining wider acceptance by surgeons worldwide.

St Mary's is already testing the da Vinci system in heart bypass operations, and other centres are considering spinal surgery, both disciplines in which precision is one of the keys to success.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Human input is still crucial"
See also:

05 Jun 01 | Health
Inter-continental robot surgery
12 Mar 00 | Health
Robot reduces spinal surgery risk
02 Feb 00 | Health
Heart surgeons use robot hands
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