Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Prostate Cancer Intervention versus Observation trial’

A survey of patients who had their prostate removed showed there was no significant difference in complication rates between open retropubic radical prostatectomy (ORRP) and robotic assisted laparoscopic surgery (RALRP).

This is an important finding because 85% of prostatectomies in the United States are undertaken using robotic-assisted techniques, yet there has been little published data to show that this technique improves functional outcomes.

At the European Association of Urology (EAU) annual congress last year in Vienna some of the challenges and opportunies with robotic surgery were raised:

  • lack of data on improved functional outcome
  • need for licensing of robotic surgeons
  • high learning curve – it takes 250 patients to become proficient

In reality, we see hospitals marketing their robotic surgery to patients in shopping malls and with advertisements on the side of buses.  You can read Gary Schwitzer’s thoughts on some of the recent marketing claims & “gizmo idolatry.”

This is why a survey comparing the results of open to robotic assisted prostate removal surgery is important evidence based medicine. Published online first in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Barry and colleagues randomly surveyed 800 men who filed Medicare claims between August and December 2008.  685 completed surveys were returned, and information on adverse events was obtained.

The data highlights the dramatic effect on quality of life that prostate cancer surgery can have, irrespective of the surgical technique. The men rated themselves:

31.1% – moderate or big problem with continence  (95% CI 27.5 to 34.8%)

88.0% – moderate or big problem with sexual function (95% CI 85.4% to 90.6%)

Breaking this down by technique (robotic surgery versus open prostatectomy):

Continence: 27.1% of men (Open) versus 33.3% (Robotic) – not significant (P=0.113)

Sexual Function: 89.0% of men (Open) versus 87.5% (Robotic) – not significant (P=0.57)

The authors conclude in their JCO paper:

Our results do not demonstrate a lower risk of problems with incontinence or sexual function after RALRP compared with ORRP.

In fact, after adjusting for potential confounders, there was at least a strong trend toward a higher risk of patient-reported moderate or big problems with incontinence following RALRP.

The authors in their discussion do raise the interesting question as to whether patients were led to believe that they would have fewer side effects with robotic surgery, which may have impacted the survey findings.  This merits further investigation.

There is clearly a need for patients to give informed consent, and be aware of the risks and complications of prostate cancer surgery, particularly with regards fundamental quality of life issues such as continence or sexual function.

The accompanying JCO editorial by Matthew Cooperberg and colleagues from UCSF is well worth reading and raises the question as to whether men with prostate cancer should expect better outcomes than those reported in the survey?

What the survey by Barry et al did not do is look at the volume of procedures and experience level of the surgeon, both of which are associated with outcomes.

Cooperberg noted that “surgeons performing fewer than 5 prostatectomies per year account for approximately half the national volume.

A chilling statistic, and if you factor in the learning curve of more than 200 procedures to be competent at robotic surgery, it is perhaps not surprising that some men experience higher complication rates than others.

Which brings me back to the importance of the PIVOT (Prostate Cancer Intervention versus Observation Trial) data presented in the plenary session at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA) in May last year.

Why has this practice changing data not been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet?

The fact that the updated PIVOT study results presented at AUA 2011 have not been published (to the best of my knowledge) is a disservice not only to the medical and scientific community, but to men with prostate cancer whose treatment should be guided by evidence-based medicine.

The long-term results of the PIVOT trial presented by Professor Wilt showed no benefit of radical prostatectomy over watchful waiting, except for high-risk patients.  Yet, the reality is that many men end up having surgery. This may be considered overtreatment and an exposure of more men than is necessary to the complications of prostatectomy, irrespective of whether this is robotic or open surgery.

The decision to undergo radical prostatectomy should be an informed one, not only as to the risks and benefits of the surgical technique, but also whether the surgery should be performed in the first place as compared to “watchful waiting.”

I hope the paper and editorial published in the JCO this month will generate some debate. Next month I will be at the European Urology Association annual congress in Paris.


ResearchBlogging.orgBarry, M., Gallagher, P., Skinner, J., & Fowler, F. (2012). Adverse Effects of Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Versus Open Retropubic Radical Prostatectomy Among a Nationwide Random Sample of Medicare-Age Men Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2011.36.8621

Cooperberg, M., Odisho, A., & Carroll, P. (2012). Outcomes for Radical Prostatectomy: Is It the Singer, the Song, or Both? Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2011.38.9593

Update August 12, 2012 – Paper published in European Urology shows lower incontinence and greater rate of erection recovery with robot-assisted radical prostatectomy

A paper published online (July 20, 2012) in the journal, European Urology by Franceso Porpiglia provides some evidence that robot-assisted radical prostatectomy offers functional benefits to patients. I have not read the full paper only the freely available abstract.

The clinical trial evaluated the functional outcomes of 120 men in a randomized clinical trial where half (n=60) received radical prostatectomy (RARP) that was robot-assisted and the other half (n=60) who had the operation laparoscopically without robot assistance (LRP).

Following the surgery performed by Dr Porpiglia, the functional outcomes between the two groups were compared. Those men operated on with robot assistance showed:

  • Lower incontinence. “Continence after 3 mo was 80% in the RARP group and 61.6% in the LRP group (p = 0.044), and after 1 yr, the continence rate was 95.0% and 83.3%, respectively (p = 0.042)”
  • Better erection recovery. “Among preoperative potent patients treated with nerve-sparing techniques, the rate of erection recovery was 80.0% and 54.2%, respectively (p = 0.020).”

The challenge of this study is that although it was randomized, it reflects the results of only one surgeon with a small number of patients.

Dr Matthew Cooperberg (@cooperberg_ucsf) was quoted by Reuters saying that this was likely the best study we were going to get showing the benefits of RARP over LRP. On twitter he said the real question was now between radical prostatectomy and external radiation therapy (XRT).

As many of you know, I previously wrote up on this blog the results from the Prostate Cancer Intervention versus Observation trial (PIVOT) that were presented during the plenary session at the recent American Urological Association (AUA) 2011 annual meeting.

Other science bloggers who were at the meeting also wrote about the presentation (see Scott Hensley’s excellent post on NPR’s health blog).

In fact anyone in the press room at AUA (I had a media pass as a science blogger) could have reviewed a copy of Dr Wilt’s presentation immediately afterwards and written about it.

However, what surprises me is that the data from this trial, which to many was the highlight of the AUA meeting and may be practice changing for urologists, has had relatively little or no pick-up by the mainstream news media.  The only reason I can think for this is due to the fact there is no abstract available, press release or other information for the media to use as reference.  Why is this?

As a scientist it makes no sense to me to present the results of a landmark study in the plenary session of a major scientific congress and not to share the data, especially when the data could have a major impact for men diagnosed with early prostate cancer and the practice of evidence based medicine.  Are urologists seriously supposed to rely on the notes they made from a rushed presentation or blog posts to guide them?

While it is common for abstracts to be delayed till the day of the presentation for groundbreaking or late-breaking research, there is no reason why an abstract with the main findings from the PIVOT trial should not have been released.

A cooperative study sponsored by government institutions such as the VA/NCI/AHRQ should be prepared to disseminate data, or else why present it at AUA?

Instead, the problem may be more due the fact that Dr Wilt, as Scott Hensley pointed out in his NPR blog post, has not submitted a manuscript of the data he presented at AUA for publication, so may be trying not to fall foul of the so-called “Ingelfinger rule” that medical journals insist upon.

This rule was named after the New England Journal of Medicine editor who established it.  In its simplicity, it states that data will not be accepted for publication if it has been published elsewhere.

However, with no disrespect to a full Professor of Medicine at a major medical school who has published numerous papers, it’s unfair to the scientific community to want to have your cake and eat it  i.e. have the glory of a plenary presentation without allowing the scientific community to use the data until you get round to writing a paper.  Clearly, it would have made more sense to have a manuscript in press before agreeing to present at the AUA plenary.

I am also troubled by the fact that what constitutes publication of the data does not include presentation at the plenary session of a major scientific congress.  If this isn’t publication, what is?  While technically a plenary presentation is not a peer-reviewed publication in the sense of having been through the rigors of a journal’s peer-review process (the value of which may not be as much as we believe), there is some implied peer review of scientific merit, or else why would it be given a plenary?

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) policy on dissemination of information, it’s OK to make a presentation at a scientific meeting, but not to disseminate further information to the media or the press.  I’m sorry but this makes no sense to me.  In other words it appears it’s OK for Dr Wilt to present the data, but not share it, but if you were at the meeting you can report it.  However, if you were not at the meeting, then you can’t obtain a copy of what was presented?

You can read the tangled logic of the JAMA policy below, and each journal is slightly different in how it views this:

Presentation of research findings during, or publication of an abstract for, an open scientific or clinical meeting does not preclude consideration of the study for publication in JAMA.

News media reports based on coverage that occurs during the usual course of presentation of a scientific or clinical paper does not preempt a manuscript from consideration for publication.

However, authors presenting papers at such meetings are advised to refrain from providing additional information beyond that covered during the course of their presentation and exchange with meeting attendees.

Yet, here we have the results of a major 12 year study which for the first time establishes evidence based medicine on the use of radical prostatectomy in early stage prostate cancer patients, and nobody wants to share the data with the public?

In the light of the presentation that was made at the AUA plenary and the lack of any further information while we wait for Dr Wilt to submit a manuscript through the peer-review process of a major journal, which can take several months, I think it’s important for this data to be shared.

Since media reports of data presented at meetings appear to not to forego the opportunity of publishing the results, at least according to the JAMA policy, I hope that we will see further news reports about Dr Wilt’s AUA plenary presentation.

The results from the PIVOT study are important to scientists, urologists and men talking to their doctor about prostate cancer.  This data may help them better judge whether they should undertake watchful waiting or undergo radical prostatectomy surgery.  The data slides and Dr Wilt’s conclusions speak for themselves, as you can see in my earlier post.  I look forward to reading the full scientific paper when it is eventually published.

Update May 23, 2011

A webcast with audio and slides of Dr Wilt’s plenary presentation of the PIVOT data is now available on the AUA website.


error: Content is protected !!