Men with low-risk prostate cancer have similar recurrence-free survival rates when treated with surgical robotic prostatectomy or brachytherapy, but those who received surgery had fewer urinary or sexual problems two years after treatment, a randomized trial in Italy has concluded. The study was recently published in the April 2017 issue of the Canadian Journal of Urology [Claudio et al, 24 (2), 8728-8733].
Treatment of early-stage or low-risk prostate cancer relies on active surveillance, surgery or radiation therapy. In particular, both robot-assisted radical prostatectomy (RARP) and brachytherapy (BP) — a type of internal radiation therapy in which radioactive seeds are placed inside or near a tumor — have been shown to effectively treat prostate cancer. However, until now little was known about their long-term effects. “Treatment decisions that men with low-risk prostate cancer have to make can be difficult, as a lot of it depends on what the patient is looking for and what type of experience their physician has to offer,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital
Italian researchers at Milan’s San Paolo Hospital conducted the single-center, prospective study from January 2012 to January 2016 to compare the outcomes of 165 patients randomly assigned to receive either RARP or BT. They followed all patients for up to two years after treatment, including clinical evaluation and determination of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.
Researchers also evaluated urinary and erectile functions, and found that overall biochemical recurrence-free survival rates were similar among the two groups. Patients undergoing RARP had a 97.4 percent recurrence-free survival rate, compared to 96.1 percent reported in the BT-treated group. Biochemical recurrence is the term used when a patient’s PSA levels start rising again. “This was actually expected,” said Dr. Samadi. “A two-year follow-up is a short period of time to ascertain much difference between the two procedures.”
While the recurrence-free survival was similar in both groups, researchers saw different outcomes when analyzing sexual or urinary symptoms. Men undergoing BT regained continence faster than those who received RARP during the first six months of follow-up. But this difference was no longer significant after 12 months and 24 months. Interestingly, men in the BT group had more urinary symptoms during the two-year follow-up.
Regarding sexual function, both groups showed a decreased ability to maintain an erection right after treatment. However, RARP-treated men recovered potency much more quickly than their BP-treated counterparts. By the final follow-up, 90 percent of RARP-treated men were back to normal, compared to only 60 percent of men in the BT group. “These are factors any doctor and the men they see with low-risk prostate cancer need to take into consideration when making any treatment decision,” Dr. Samadi said. “When they make the comparison between RARP and BT, RARP clearly shows the upper hand in treating prostate cancer effectively and managing symptoms better at this stage.”
It must be noted that these results may vary somewhat with the experience of the medical personnel involved and should be discussed with one’s physician if applicable.