“A prostatectomy is a surgical procedure for the partial or complete removal of the prostate. It may be performed to treat prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia.
A common surgical approach to prostatectomy includes making a surgical incision and removing the prostate gland (or part of it). This may be accomplished with either of two methods, the retropubic or suprapubic incision (lower abdomen), or a perineum incision (through the skin between the scrotum and the rectum).
Prior to having a prostatectomy, it’s often necessary to have a prostate biopsy. Please see this procedure for additional information.
What is the prostate gland?
The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the neck of a man’s bladder and urethra—the tube that carries urine from the bladder. It’s partly muscular and partly glandular, with ducts opening into the prostatic portion of the urethra. It’s made up of three lobes, a center lobe with one lobe on each side.
As part of the male reproductive system, the prostate gland’s primary function is to secrete a slightly alkaline fluid that forms part of the seminal fluid (semen), a fluid that carries sperm. During male climax (orgasm), the muscular glands of the prostate help to propel the prostate fluid, in addition to sperm that was produced in the testicles, into the urethra. The semen then travels through the tip of the penis during ejaculation.
Researchers don’t know all the functions of the prostate gland. However, the prostate gland plays an important role in both sexual and urinary function. It’s common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages, and it’s also likely for a man to encounter some type of prostate problem in his lifetime.
Many common problems that don’t require a radical prostatectomy are associated with the prostate gland. These problems may occur in men of all ages and include:
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is an age-related enlargement of the prostate that isn’t malignant. BPH is the most common noncancerous prostate problem, occurring in most men by the time they reach their 60s. Symptoms are slow, interrupted, or weak urinary stream; urgency with leaking or dribbling; and frequent urination, especially at night. Although it isn’t cancer, BPH symptoms are often similar to those of prostate cancer.
Prostatism. This involves decreased urinary force due to obstruction of flow through the prostate gland. The most common cause of prostatism is BPH.
Prostatitis. Prostatitis is inflammation or infection of the prostate gland characterized by discomfort, pain, frequent or infrequent urination, and, sometimes, fever.
Prostatalgia. This involves pain in the prostate gland, also called prostatodynia. It’s frequently a symptom of prostatitis.
Cancer of the prostate is a common and serious health concern. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men older than age 50, and the third leading cause of death from cancer.
There are different ways to achieve the goal of removing the prostate gland when there’s cancer. Methods of performing prostatectomy include:
Surgical removal includes a radical prostatectomy (RP), with either a retropubic or perineal approach. Radical prostatectomy is the removal of the entire prostate gland. Nerve-sparing surgical removal is important to preserve as much function as possible.
Transurethral resection of the prostate, or TURP, which also involves removal of part of the prostate gland, is an approach performed through the penis with an endoscope (small, flexible tube with a light and a lens on the end). This procedure doesn’t cure prostate cancer but can remove the obstruction while the doctors plan for definitive treatment.
Laparoscopic surgery, done manually or by robot, is another method of removal of the prostate gland.
Are there different types of radical prostatectomy?
There are several methods of radical prostatectomy:
Radical prostatectomy with retropubic (suprapubic) approach. This is the most common surgical approach used by urologists (doctors who specialize in diseases and surgery of the urinary tract). If there’s reason to believe the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the doctor will remove lymph nodes from around the prostate gland, in addition to the prostate gland. Cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland if it’s found in the lymph nodes. If that’s the case, then surgery may be discontinued, since it won’t treat the cancer adequately. In this situation, additional treatments may be used.
Nerve-sparing prostatectomy approach. If the cancer is tangled with the nerves, it may not be possible to maintain the nerve function or structure. Sometimes nerves must be cut in order to remove the cancerous tissue. If both sides of the nerves are cut or removed, the man will be unable to have an erection. This won’t improve over time (although there are interventions that may restore erectile function).
If only one side of the bundle of nerves is cut or removed, the man may have less erectile function, but will possibly have some function left. If neither nerve bundle is disturbed during surgery, function may remain normal. However, it sometimes takes months after surgery to know whether a full recovery will occur. This is because the nerves are handled during surgery and may not function properly for a while after the procedure.
Laparoscopic radical prostatectomy. The surgeon makes several small cuts and long, thin tools are placed inside the cuts. The surgeon puts a thin tube with a video camera (laparoscope) inside one of the cuts and instruments through others. This helps the surgeon see inside during the procedure.
Robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy. Sometimes laparoscopic surgery is done using a robotic system. The surgeon moves the robotic arm while sitting at a computer monitor near the operating table. This procedure requires special equipment and training. Not every hospital can do robotic surgery.
Radical prostatectomy with perineal approach. Radical perineal prostatectomy is used less frequently than the retropubic approach. This is because the nerves can’t be spared as easily, nor can lymph nodes be removed by using this surgical technique. However, this procedure takes less time and may be an option if the nerve-sparing approach isn’t needed. This approach is also appropriate if lymph node removal isn’t required. Perineal prostatectomy may be used if other medical conditions rule out using a retropubic approach.
With the retropubic approach, there is a smaller, hidden incision for an improved cosmetic effect. Also, major muscle groups are avoided. Therefore, there’s generally less pain and recovery time.
Reasons for the procedure
The goal of radical prostatectomy is to remove all prostate cancer. RP is used when the cancer is believed to be confined to the prostate gland. During the procedure, the prostate gland and some tissue around the gland, including the seminal vesicles, are removed. The seminal vesicles are the two sacs that connect to the vas deferens (a tube running through the testicles), and secrete semen.
Other less common reasons for radical prostatectomy include:
Inability to completely empty the bladder
Recurrent bleeding from the prostate
Bladder stones with prostate enlargement
Very slow urination
Increased pressure on the ureters and kidneys from urinary retention (called hydronephrosis)”