Associate Prof Declan Murphy with the da Vinci robot .
A leading cancer surgeon is pushing for the Victorian government to invest more than $9 million into robotic technology after a study suggested it may deliver better outcomes for men having their prostate removed to treat cancer.
The director of robotic surgery at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Declan Murphy, said an analysis of all Victorian men who had their prostates removed over the past three years, in both private and public hospitals, found those who had the robotic procedure had some superior outcomes.
On average, he said men in the robotic group left hospital after 1½ days and did not require blood transfusions, whereas men having the more traditional ''open'' and laparoscopic procedures stayed an average of five days, with 15 per cent requiring transfusions. The study included 5130 men. The average age was 60.
Alan Lyngcoln, pictured at home with wife Mary, had robotic surgery to remove prostate cancer.
While the retrospective analysis did not look at rates of incontinence and sexual dysfunction - two key problems that commonly affect men after prostate surgery - Associate Professor Murphy said it did suggest robotic surgery was better at eliminating cancer and preventing the need for further treatment.
''Men having an open procedure had a one-third greater chance of cancer remaining on the fringes of excised tissue, which in turn makes them five times more likely to require additional cancer treatment in the 12 months following surgery,'' he said in the US, where he is presenting the analysis to the American Urological Association's annual meeting.
A robotic prostate removal is performed with the ''da Vinci'' system - a $3 million machine that uses 3D technology to enhance vision and includes tiny instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human wrist.
Over the past decade, an increasing number of Australian men have paid up to $25,000 to have the procedure done, mainly in private hospitals, because of studies suggesting it may be superior. But some doctors have labelled this a win for ''spin over substance'' and say the technology may be no better than older procedures.
Professor Murphy, who has been paid by the manufacturer of the da Vinci system to teach others how to use it, said although it was expensive, an economic analysis showed it would be a cost-effective acquisition for three public hospitals in Victoria that perform more than 140 prostate removals a year. He has pitched this to the state government.
However, the vice-president of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, Mark Frydenberg, said the data used in the analysis was questionable and a more rigorous randomised trial currently comparing about 600 men's treatment in Brisbane would better resolve the questions about which surgical procedure was better.
He said while the length of hospital stays and blood transfusion rates might slightly increase with the open and laparoscopic procedures, most studies showed equivalent outcomes for rates of incontinence, impotence and cancer control among all three options.
''The jury's still out,'' he said.
Alan Lyngcoln, a 67-year-old Tuerong man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December, said he was pleased to be able to have a robotic prostatectomy to remove his cancer at Peter Mac in March. Aside from some slight ongoing incontinence, he said his life returned to normal six weeks after the procedure.