Breakthrough Robotic Surgery Tackles Prostate Cancer
An avid outdoorsman, Kevin McCaffrey, 61, “felt invincible” until his doctor uttered the words: “You have prostate cancer.”
“I never thought it could happen to me because we don’t have a family history of cancer,” he said. “It was a shock.”
But shock has given way to hope thanks to robotic surgery performed at Danbury Hospital by James Bruno, M.D., director of Urologic Robotic Surgery at the hospital and a physician with Urology Associates of Danbury. McCaffrey was back on the golf course less than a month after surgery. Today he is free of cancer and determined “to get the word out” about prostate cancer screenings and the innovative surgical treatment that saved his life.
“People suggested I check out Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center or the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven,” said the Brookfield resident. “But I didn’t see the point in doing that when Danbury Hospital has some of the finest surgeons, nurses and facilities in the country. Why go anywhere else?”
What is robotic surgery?
Robotic surgery is a specialized form of minimally invasive surgery that allows surgeons to use laparoscopic techniques. The team at the Carmen Lucia and Peter Buck Center for Robotic Surgery at Danbury Hospital includes physicians, nurses and others specially trained in robotic and computer-assisted surgical techniques. The hospital uses the da Vinci Surgical System which has three mechanical arms, a camera, a 3-D imaging processing system and a remote control unit.
Unmatched precision spares healthy tissue
“Robotic technology allows surgeons to perform even the most complex and delicate procedures through small incisions with unmatched precision when compared with conventional laparoscopy or traditional open surgery,” said Dr. Bruno. Surgeons have superior 3-D visualization of the surgical site, enhanced 360-degree range of motion, plus greater control and dexterity.
“During traditional open surgery, surgeons make an incision from the belly button to the pubic bone,” said Dr. Bruno. “Patients can lose one to two pints of blood so they often donate their own blood before surgery in case they need a transfusion. They generally stay in the hospital for three to four days, require substantial pain medication, and go home with a catheter for two to three weeks.”
“The robot changes all that,” he said.
Gold standard of care for prostate cancer
Robotic prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) has become the gold standard surgical treatment option for men with early stage prostate cancer. Cancer control, continence and sexual potency are comparable between robotics and traditional open surgery, said Dr. Bruno.
“During a robotic prostatectomy, surgeons can easily access the hard-to-reach prostate and remove the gland while sparing healthy tissues and nerves affecting urinary control and sexual function,” said Dr. Bruno. “The surgeon controls every aspect of the surgery at all times.”
An estimated 80 percent of all prostate cancer surgeries are performed with robotic technology, said Dr. Bruno. “However men with very large prostates or who have undergone previous abdominal, hernia, colon or other significant surgeries may not be candidates for robotic surgery,” he said.
Patient benefits are plentiful
For patients, robotic procedures offer all the potential benefits of a minimally invasive procedure, including:
Less blood loss. Patients lose one to two ounces of blood so there’s no need to donate blood before surgery. “Men are less fatigued post operatively and have a quicker recovery partially because they don’t get anemic from the loss of blood,” said Dr. Bruno.
Significantly less scarring and pain. Surgeons make small incisions so patients experience less pain and require less pain medication. “I didn’t feel any pain. It was amazing,” said McCaffrey. “I had a few tiny holes that healed in three days. You’d never know I had surgery. I was fortunate to have access to a surgeon with the specialized skills to achieve such a positive outcome.”
Shorter hospital stays. Most procedures involve an overnight stay. “I was home the following day,” said McCaffrey, who described the hospital’s nursing care at as “phenomenal. Their team approach helped my recovery because a nurse was always readily available to address any concerns or keep me up to date on my condition. They made me feel like family.”
Quicker recovery and faster return to normal daily activities. McCaffrey was vacationing in New Hampshire and playing nine holes of golf less than a month after the surgery. “I felt a lot of pain – but it was my golf game, not the surgery!”
Early detection saves lives
Early detection remains the first line of defense against prostate cancer, said Dr. Bruno. He encourages patients to get screened annually beginning at age 50 or sooner if they are African American or have a family history of cancer. “It could save your life,” he said.
McCaffrey agrees. Kenneth Pellegrino, M.D., of Brookfield Family Medicine, referred McCaffrey to an urologist when his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test came back elevated following an annual physical. A biopsy confirmed that McCaffrey had the early stages of prostate cancer.
“The more I researched, the more I became convinced that robotics with Dr. Bruno at Danbury Hospital was the best treatment option for me,” said McCaffrey.
The experience has given him a “new appreciation for life,” whether it’s strolling with his wife, vacationing with his family, working at the local golf course, or anticipating the birth of another grandchild. “I am so thankful,” he said. “I feel like a different person.”
About Danbury Hospital
Danbury Hospital is a 371-bed regional medical center and university teaching hospital associated with the University of Vermont College of Medicine, the Yale University School of Medicine, the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. The hospital provides centers of excellence in cardiovascular services, cancer, weight loss surgery, orthopedics, digestive disorders, radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for sleep disorders and asthma management and is nationally recognized for providing a high level of care to Women by HealthGrades®. Medical staff members are board-certified in their specialties, and most serve on the faculty of the nation’s finest medical centers offering a higher level of experience.
Danbury Hospital is recognized by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) National Surgical Quality Improvement program (NSQIP) as one of 25 ACE NSQIP participating hospitals in the United States to achieve exemplary outcomes for surgical patient care.