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Watertown Man Benefits from Robotic Cancer Surgery at Strong

Thursday, November 11, 2004

This Thanksgiving, Robert Saiff has plenty to be grateful for – he can celebrate with his family knowing that he’s free of prostate cancer thanks to robotic technology at Strong Memorial Hospital of  the University of Rochester Medical Center. 

Saiff is one of the first men in Jefferson County to beat prostate cancer with the aid of the new robotic surgical system at Strong, the first medical center upstate to offer this technology. The daVinci Surgical System helps surgeons increase precision while performing this delicate surgery.

An urologist associated with a nearby small area hospital detected Saiff’s prostate cancer in late June. 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 located between the bladder and urethra – is the “gold standard” treatment. 

After a biopsy showed cancer cells, Saiff, 64, knew he had to take immediate action, because his father died of the disease in the early 1990s.

A friend with a similar diagnosis suggested the minimally invasive robotic surgery that debuted in Rochester last year.

“I wanted to remove the cancer and get on with my life,” says Saiff, who retired from Niagara Mohawk.

Strong urologic surgeon Jean Joseph, M.D., performed the surgery on Sept. 17 and Saiff returned home the next day.

“My recovery was fast. I was amazed that I felt as comfortable as I did,” says Saiff, who admits to mowing his lawn just four days after the surgery.

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 Saiff’s procedure. Joseph has completed more than 200 surgeries, making him one of the top 10 most experienced laparascopic surgeons in the country.

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.

Surgeons for the Wilmot Cancer Center at Strong have performed more than 200 robotic surgeries so far, averaging about six each week. 

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

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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