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Buffalo Man Benefits from Robotic Cancer Surgery at Strong

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Buffalo resident Gerald McDuffie went years without getting a comprehensive physical examination by a doctor.  He was healthy and felt good and didn’t bother with it.

When he turned 55, he felt it was time for a check-up.  It was a good move, one that may have saved his life.

Doctors detected prostate cancer in July, but they found the disease early and leading-edge robotic technology helped surgeons at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester remove the prostate with ease.

McDuffie is one of the first men in Western New York to beat prostate cancer with the aid of the new robotic surgery at Strong, the only medical center upstate to offer this technology.  The daVinci Surgical System helps surgeons increase precision while performing surgery.

After learning of his diagnosis, McDuffie immediately began searching for a cure.

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. 

McDuffie, of Highgate Avenue, had heard about a minimally invasive technique that allows for faster recovery and wanted to learn more.

Oncologist John DeBerry, M.D., recommended he pursue that surgery at Strong, where Jean Joseph, M.D., is performing the robotic laparoscopic prostatectomies two to three times per week.

“I wanted to remove the cancer and get on with my life,” says McDuffie, 55. 

McDuffie underwent surgery on July 30th and spent two days in the hospital.  He praised the Strong surgical and urology staff for their support and education during the decision-making and recovery process.

“Their concern and commitment to the patient as a person during recovery has been an immeasurable aid and continues to be outstanding,” says McDuffie.  “Because Dr. Joseph and his staff were responsive to my questions and sensitive to my feelings, my recovery continues at a pleasing pace without the aggravation and discontent of prostate cancer.  I was clearly told how to anticipate and handle all the challenging moments patients have.”

McDuffie was able to return to work at Empire State Economic Development after five weeks of recovery. 

Strong Memorial Hospital recently added the daVinci Surgical System to let urology and cardiac surgeons offer the procedures laparoscopically, eliminating the need for large incisions. The leading-edge technology consists of cameras and 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 technology provides surgeons a three-dimensional view inside the body as they remove the prostate, giving them the feel of an open surgery while performing a minimally invasive procedure.

“The robot truly enhances the images and it is dramatically better.  The magnified 3-D view improves the accuracy and precision,” says Joseph, urologic surgeon who performed McDuffie’s procedure.

The benefits of the robotic technology have a significant impact on patients and their outcomes. Because the procedures are done laparoscopically, dime-sized incisions are made and patients enjoy 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.

“It gives the appearance of being inside the patient,” says surgeon Edward Messing, M.D., chair of the Department of Urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, which operates Strong and the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. “The 3-D view provides a depth perception that is missing in traditional laparoscopic surgery. This brings us as close to the surgical site as we can get.”

Joseph and Erdal Erturk, M.D., have been using laparoscopic techniques for the past three years to repair damaged kidneys and remove cancerous tumors. 

In the operating room, medical personnel surround patients yet a surgeon is located at a console a few feet away. 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 that 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 new technology enhances the accuracy of delicate maneuvers such as repetitive stitching and suturing, says Messing.  “The robotic system improves the surgeon’s precision. It’s almost like comparing a sewing machine to hand stitching.”

The Wilmot Cancer Center at Strong is a leader in cancer care and research in Upstate New York. 


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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