Vigilance and advanced technology for treating prostate cancer saves lives
Younger men should not make the mistake of believing that they are free from the risk of developing prostate cancer, particularly if they have a family history of the disease, and should have themselves regularly tested for this potentially life threatening condition.
So says 49-year-old Barry Coetzee of Midrand, Johannesburg, who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer and underwent a successful robotic-assisted procedure to remove his prostate gland. Speaking during Movember, a month in which men’s health issues are in the spotlight, Coetzee said that both his father and grandfather had died from the disease, so he made sure that he had regular medical screenings for prostate cancer.
Coetzee says that more recently he had been remiss, however, and had not had a check-up for more than a year. “I only went thanks to the insistence of my fiancé,” he adds. “I am extremely grateful that I did, because I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. In fact, the early diagnosis of my disease and subsequent operation at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital to remove my prostate, may well have saved my life.”
Although Coetzee was not aware of it at the time, his operation was a landmark 100th procedure performed by urologist and accredited robotics surgeon, Dr Marius Conradie who practises at the hospital, using the da Vinci robotic technology.
Dr Conradie is the first doctor on the Netcare robotics surgery programme to reach this milestone since the inception of the programme in June 2014. As part of the programme, which also includes robotic facilities at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town and Netcare uMhlanga Hospital in Durban, over 500 prostatectomies in total have to date been performed.
For Coetzee, the message of his experience is clear: South African men of all ages should be more aware of prostate cancer and should undergo regular prostate cancer screening to ensure early detection of the disease. He says that this is particularly important because prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer to occur in South African men, often develops without any obvious symptoms whatsoever and symptoms may only appear once the disease is already in an advanced stage.
“It is usually recommended that men over the age of 50 should have regular check-ups with their doctor, once a year. However, while the disease occurs much more commonly in older men, it does sometimes occur in younger men, particularly if they are in a higher risk group such as in my case, as I had a strong family history of the condition.
“I am no doctor but based on my own research and experience, I would recommend that men who are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer should be regularly screened by their doctor from the age of 35. This is certainly what I have strived to do and it has proved to be a sensible and possibly life-saving approach.”
Dr Conradie concurred, saying that while men over the age of 65 are at much greater risk of developing prostate cancer, it does impact some younger men. “Some authorities suggest that cancer rates among younger men are increasing worldwide. It should also be noted that younger men quite often develop more aggressive forms of the disease that spread more quickly. Younger men are also less likely to have themselves screened for the disease, so they often present when the cancer has already spread and that is much more difficult to treat.”
“There are a number of risk factors for prostate cancer. However, we often do not know what has caused the disease and it should be noted that men of all ages and races may be at risk. Advancing age is certainly an important risk factor and men with a family history have two to three times higher risk, which increases if more than one relative has been affected. Some studies have suggested that a diet high in red meat and dairy also increases one’s risk of developing prostate cancer,” notes Dr Conradie.
He said that Mr Coetzee’s procedure had taken approximately two-and-a-half hours and had gone off without a hitch. “He was soon up and about after the operation, and has responded extremely well to the treatment.”
Asked whether he thought a robotic-assisted procedure had been the best option available to him, Coetzee said he thought it was. “I believe it was by far the best route to go under my particular circumstances and I would recommend it to other high-risk patients in similar circumstances.
“The robotic-assisted procedure is undertaken through small puncture wounds in the skin and is considerably less traumatic to the body than open surgery. I was walking around just five hours after the operation and have been able to return to work within a week, which I doubt would have been possible after regular open surgery. I have also healed rapidly and have no problems with my continence.
“I chose the robotic surgery option over brachytherapy, which involves the implantation of radioactive seeds close to the tumour. The reason for my decision was that, once one has had brachytherapy, you are not able to have follow-up radiation therapies should these ever prove to be necessary.”
Jacques du Plessis, managing director of the Netcare hospital division, congratulated Dr Conradie on reaching his 100th procedures milestone and wished Mr Coetzee all the very best. “Dr Conradie has rapidly become recognised as one of the foremost robotic surgeons in the country,” he added.
“In addition to performing all of these prostatectomies, Dr Conradie has also used the technology to assist in a number of other groundbreaking procedures using da Vinci robotic technology. These have included performing the first partial nephrectomy, an organ-preserving excision of a cancerous tumour from a kidney, in South Africa in 2015.”
According to Du Plessis, the Netcare hospital group recently released the results of a study drawn from the data on the 500 procedures that have been conducted at Netcare’s three robotic surgery centres since 2014. “The study, which was recently presented by the head of the Netcare robotics programme Dr Gregory Boustead, confirms that the Netcare robotic surgery programme offers excellent outcomes and effective early cancer control in cases of intermediate-risk and high-risk prostate cancer.”
Coetzee says that he was impressed by his experience of Netcare Waterfall City Hospital where he was both diagnosed and treated: “A biopsy confirmed my diagnosis, and once I had made my decision in consultation with my doctors, Dr Conradie organised for the operation to take place within just a few days, as he was concerned to act promptly to avert the spread of the cancer.
“He and the teams at the hospital were highly professional throughout, and carefully explained every option available to me and the processes that would need to be followed. It set my mind at rest to know I was in such experienced hands,” he concludes.