Prostate cancer, one of the most common types of cancer among males, affects 1 in 7 men worldwide. In the UK, 137 males on average are diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening disease every day, and 10,500 die from the disease every year. Fortunately, a new prostate cancer treatment method developed in the UK, involving 3D printed surgical models and robotic arms, could potentially advance the treatment process significantly, helping to save lives.
The process, which involves a minimally invasive surgical system known as the “Da Vinci Robot”, essentially uses 3D modeling and printing to recreate a model of the patient’s cancerous prostate, which surgeons can use as a tactile surgical model to both better acquaint themselves with the anatomy before the surgery and to use during the surgery while controlling the robotic surgical arms. The process is meant to simplify prostate cancer surgery as well as to improve the outcomes of it by lessening risks.
The innovative process was developed by Prokar Dasgupta, a Professor of Urology at The London Clinic, who thought it could help him to complete prostate tumor removals with precision accuracy. He explains the benefits of having a 3D printed model of his patient’s prostate to Telegraph, “One of the disadvantages of doing prostate surgery with robotics is the lack of touch. While you can see things better in 3D, HD, magnified 10x, you lose this crucial sense of touch.” With the 3D printed replica of the prostate he says, “I could feel how close the tumour was to the surface as I could feel the bulge of the tumour inside the 3D print. Normally we plan where the tumour is in our minds but here I held the model in my hand as I performed the procedure with the Da Vinci Robot, where I’m seated remotely at a console. The model allows for better planning and accuracy which is what you want to hear in cancer surgery.”
Consultant radiologist Dr. Clare Allen was the one to spearhead using 3D printing to create the prostate model, and believes it could be a breakthrough for the treatment and removal of prostate tumors, especially those that may be located in critical areas, such as near the sphincter, or in proximity to erectile nerves. Dasgupta, who performed his first surgery using the process on 65-year-old English patient Alex Spry*, explains “Because the nerves for erections are on the sides of the prostate there’s a risk of damage. In this instance we have spared these nerves.”
As the doctor continues to explain, Spry’s prostate tumor was located in a precarious position, just 1mm from the sphincter, which if damaged could cause incontinence. Thanks to the precision and tactility of the new technique, which also allowed Dasgupta to become familiarized with Spry’s anatomy and to plan his surgery before going in to the operating room, the surgeon was able to perform the surgery without any damage to Spry’s other body parts, making his recovery time as minimal as possible. The whole surgery took two hours to complete.
“Since my surgery the recovery period has gone very well - once the catheter was removed after a week at home, I had immediate control of my bladder function, which was wonderful,” says Spry. “I am now feeling better every day and looking forward to getting back to a full and active life including travelling and sailing.”
In addition to helping doctor’s before and during tumor removal surgery, the 3D printed anatomical models can also be used to better explain the surgical process to the patient in consultation. Having a personalized model can greatly help instil confidence in the patient about the surgery by helping them to better understand what they will go through. This use of 3D printed anatomical models has also been used for other types of surgery, including kidney surgery.
*not patient’s real name

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