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The BBC's Sumit Bose
"Microscopic nerves which control sexual function are often cut"
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Surgical technique 'cuts impotency risk'
Prostate cancer operation can leave patient impotent
Men having surgery for prostate cancer face a reduced chance of impotency thanks to a hi-tech probe.

The surgical technique allows doctors to identify nerves which, if damaged, can cause the patient to lose sexual function permanently.

The Cavermap probe stimulates the nerves to cause an erection and allow the surgeon to locate the nerves.

They can then be marked to avoid damaging them and can be checked again after the operation to ensure they have not been affected.

Prostate cancer kills 10,000 men in the UK each year but can be treated by a prostatectomy, where the prostate gland is removed, normally along with small parts of the lymphatic system near the gland.

Nerve damage

But the operation often causes nerve damage which can prevent men achieving erection afterwards, or maintain complete control over urination.

The probe has been used in the US for two years but only 30 patients in the UK have so far benefited form the treatment, which is only available privately.

The first was Doug Davidson, 45, who underwent the operation a year ago and whose sexual function is now back to normal.

He told the BBC: "For five or six months there is nothing there at all. It is completely dead.

"Gradually, as the weeks go by and the months go by, you just get a little bit more each time. About a year later you are back to normal."

Roger Kirby, the consultant urologist who carried out the operation at the London Clinic, said: "We stimulate the nerves in the patient with this device by producing a stimulus for the nerve that produces a response.

"The we remove the prostate and do the exact same thing again, proving the nerve is still intact."

However, Kate Law of the Cancer Research Campaign warned that the technique is only useful for younger men.

She added: "It is only relevant for a minority of patients."

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