prostate surgeries

  1. High-tech doesn't mean low-risk

    I wouldn't wish prostate surgery on my worst enemies.

    Not only is it often completely unnecessary since prostate cancer isn't nearly the killer it's been made out to be -- but the treatments themselves are often worse than the disease and come with more risks than your surgeon will ever let on.

    And that's true even if your surgeon happens to be made of metal.

    Robot-assisted prostate surgeries have become all the rage in recent years, involved in up to 85 percent of all procedures in the United States.

    But that's not a triumph of technology so much as marketing: Many patients agree to them because they've been led to believe robo-surgeries are safer and better than traditional surgeries.

    They're not.

    Researchers asked 600 Medicare patients who had undergone prostate surgery about their side effects, and a full 90 percent of them reported moderate to severe sexual dysfunction 14 months later.

    It didn't matter if they were among the 400 patients who got a robot-assisted procedure... or the 200 who got the traditional surgery. The results were the same either way.

    And in both groups, about a third of the patients reported incontinence problems -- with slightly more men in the robot group battling the leakage.

    This isn't some groundbreaking study, either. In fact, the research has been consistent: These high-tech procedures don't lower the risks of side effects or even improve outcomes.

    But while robots aren't bringing better results to the OR, they're delivering big on the balance sheet: Hospitals charge up to $2,000 more for robot-assisted surgeries.

    They have to. The machines alone can cost several million dollars, not to mention training and maintenance fees.

    Most hospitals have to take out loans to cover it all -- and when you've got payment deadlines coming up, you've got extra pressure to make sure the machine starts bringing in cash the moment it's plugged in.

    That's why hospitals that buy robots launch big, misleading ad campaigns -- and that's why studies have shown that facilities that get the machines begin doing more procedures almost overnight, even in areas where prostate surgeries in general are on the decline.

    In a nutshell, that means hospitals and surgeons are aggressively pushing patients to not only get a surgery that research shows they don't actually need, but a more expensive high-tech version of the procedure that doesn't improve outcomes or even decrease the risk of side effects.

    And people wonder why the healthcare system is a mess!

  2. A not-so-fond farewell to the PSA test

    It's one of the smartest moves ever made by a government panel -- so naturally, they're catching hell for it.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has urged docs and patients to put the kibosh on the PSA test -- because after some 2 million prostate surgeries and procedures based on that screening, the disease's death rate has remained unchanged.

    In other words, it's crystal clear that those PSA tests haven't saved lives. They've only increased the number of life-altering surgeries and other treatments that have left men battling side effects like incontinence, infection and sexual dysfunction.

    And in the cruelest irony of all, some men have even died as a direct result of those prostate screenings and surgeries.

    But I'm sure you've heard the noise by now: Instead of welcoming the Task Force's long-overdue move toward common sense, there have been howls of protest.

    Look closely, however, and you'll see none of them are coming from objective scientists.

    They're coming from people with a stake in continued PSA testing.

    The loudest cries are from the urologists and oncologists who've earned big money on prostate procedures over the years. In fact, as of this writing, the only major medical groups to come out against the new recommendations are urologists.

    Even the American Cancer Society has remained silent -- with some of its top officers admitting that PSA tests have led to the mass overtreatment of harmless prostate cancers.

    "We didn't start using this test because we had clinical trials that showed it worked -- we started using it because it was around and we were told it saves lives," Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the organization's deputy chief medical officer told PBS News. "There's nothing to indicate that was true."

    But many of the men who've had a cancer detected by a PSA test -- and treatments on those cancers -- are convinced it saved their lives. They make up the other group protesting this, even though they have no way of knowing whether the treatment actually prevented their own death.

    In fact, the numbers show the opposite: They almost certainly would have lived a long and healthy life never even knowing they had prostate cancer -- and eventually, they would have died of something else.

    It's tough to believe that, especially if you've gone through the trauma of a prostate surgery and battled the side effects afterwards… but those numbers don't lie.

    And now, even the government is ready to admit it. The real question today is: Will your own doctor play along?

    I'm not done with prostate cancer yet -- keep reading for more on the vitamin that WON'T raise your risk.

  3. Robots put to work

    Here's what I think of when I picture a hospital pulling the wrapper off a shiny new surgical robot, like the ones commonly used to perform prostate surgeries: A kid getting a pair of skis in July...Same goes for those hospitals -- because a new study confirms that the first response isn't "how can we use this machine best?" It's "how quickly can we put this thing to work -- and how many patients can we use it on?"

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