Ithaca Native Benefits from Robotic Cancer Surgery at Strong

March 16, 2004

Jerry Benson considers himself a lucky man.  He was able to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family just four days after surgery to remove prostate cancer.

“It was very important to spend quality time with my wife and daughters,” says Benson, who grew up in Ithaca and now lives in Cortland.  He graduated from Ithaca High School in 1965.

Benson credits leading-edge robotic technology for his success. He is one of the area’s first men to beat prostate cancer with the aid of the new robotic surgical system at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, the only medical center upstate to offer this technology.  The daVinci Surgical System helps surgeons increase precision while performing delicate surgery.

Doctors detected Benson’s prostate cancer in July, but they found it early, during an annual physical.  Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men and affects about 220,000 U.S. men each year.  Surgery to remove the prostate gland --  an organ about the size of a walnut and located between the bladder and urethra – is the “gold standard” treatment. 

After a biopsy showed cancer cells, and Benson recalls “basically life as I knew it ended at that point in time.  It was like a whole new life.”

He immediately began researching the best treatments available.  He was intrigued by the minimally invasive robotic surgery that debuted in Rochester last spring.

“I wanted to remove the cancer and get on with my life,” says Benson, 56, who works for the Cortland County Probation Department. “I didn’t want to wait for something to get too bad.”

Strong urologic surgeon Jean Joseph, M.D., performed the surgery on Nov. 25 and Benson returned home the next day.

“My recovery was fast. I was amazed that I felt as comfortable as I did.  I expected more uncomfortable,” says Benson, who returned to work just a month later.   He credits the support of his family for helping him through it all.

Strong added the robotic system to allow urology and cardiac surgeons perform the procedures laparoscopically, eliminating the need for large incisions. The leading-edge technology consists of a robotic arm that performs surgeries using movements that replicate a surgeon’s motions. The movements are controlled from across the room, by a surgeon using virtual images provided by laparoscopic cameras.

“This system truly enhances the images and it is dramatically better.  The magnified 3-D view improves the accuracy and precision,” says Jean V. Joseph, M.D., the urologic surgeon who performed Benson’s procedure.

The benefits of the robotic technology have a significant impact on patients and their outcomes. Because the cases are done laparoscopically, dime-sized incisions are made that result in faster recovery time and a lower chance of infection or other complications.  The procedures themselves can be even more accurate than traditional surgery, with steadier “hands” at the surgical site being directed by a surgeon.

Using the robotic surgical system, patients are surrounded by medical personnel, yet the surgeon is located at a console a few feet away.

Supporting surgical team members prepare small incisions in the patient, install the correct instruments, and supervise the laparoscopic arms and tools being used.  The  instruments are designed with seven degrees of motion to mimic the dexterity of the human wrist. Each instrument has a specific surgical mission such as clamping, suturing and tissue manipulation.

Although the surgeon is not physically in contact with the patient, the daVinci control console allows the surgeon to actually see the surgical field in enhanced detail as a result of the three-dimensional image transmitted from the laparoscopic cameras.

The surgeon manipulates the robotic “hands” in real-time using master controls, seeing minute, 3-D details inside the patient with the aid of the cameras located inside the patient.  The two robotic arms and one laparoscopic arm execute the surgeon’s commands.

The robotic system also enhances the accuracy of delicate maneuvers such as repetitive stitching and suturing. “It’s almost like comparing a sewing machine to hand stitching,” Joseph says. 

Currently, surgeons for the Wilmot Cancer Center at Strong are performing about three of the robotic surgeries each week. 

The Wilmot Cancer Center is a leader in cancer care and research in Upstate New York.   For more information about cancer treatment, go to www.stronghealth.com or  call 1-866- 4WILMOT

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Facts about prostate cancer:

  • Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in blood. Prostate cancer may also be found when a doctor does a digital rectal examination (DRE).
  • Prostate cancer is nearly always curable if detected at its earliest stages.
  • The American Cancer Society recommends men should begin annual prostate cancer screenings at age 50, unless they have relatives who have had prostate cancer or are African-American, and they could begin testing at 45.
  • Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men, other than skin cancer. There will be about 220,900 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States this year. About 28,900 men will die of this disease.
  • Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, exceeded only by lung cancer. While one man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, only one man in 32 will die of this disease.
  • African-American men are more likely to have prostate cancer and to die of the disease than are white or Asian men. The reasons for this are still not known.
  • The chance of having prostate cancer increases rapidly after age 50. More than 70 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. It is still unclear why this increase with age occurs for prostate cancer.
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For Media Inquiries:
Leslie White
(585) 273-1119
Email Leslie White