When a doctor becomes a patient – A story of a doctor who underwent robotic surgery for prostate cancer….

I am quite touched by this comprehensive feedback from a senior doctor who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent robotic surgery in my care.


I’m writing this piece with the hope that patients diagnosed with prostate cancer will benefit from my experience in accepting the dreadful diagnosis and in choosing the mode of treatment and the doctor (and hospital) to treat me.

My Story: I am 62 year old medical doctor (consultant paediatrician) residing at family house in Hyderabad (AP). Until recently we had been living and working abroad. It has been seven months (today 31st October, 2014) since I had Robotic/Robot-Assisted (da Vinci® ) Radical Prostatectomy (RRP) for Prostate cancer on 31st March 2014 by a team of doctors lead by Dr. Gagan Gautam.

Diagnosis: My story started with occasional dripping of drops of urine after voiding six months prior to my surgery. It was rather a nuisance than a ‘disease’. I mentioned this complaint to a colleague (urologist) in the hospital I was abroad. He advised me to do Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) as a marker for prostate cancer due to my age rather than a finding of enlarged prostate. We came home for vacation and paediaric conference held in Indore in January this year. Before the conference I saw a urologist at a ‘five-star’ hospital in Hyderabad. He did not think it was necessary to do PSA as he was under the impression that the enlarged prostate was benign (not cancerous); he advised for clinical follow up to monitor the enlargement. However, I personally opted to do the PSA at that hospital on Monday 10th February 2014; it turned out very high (3x upper limit of normal). The following week I went back to the same urologist and showed him the result of the PSA and discussed the next course of action. He then ordered for trans-rectal ultrasound-guided (TRUS) biopsy of the prostate which I underwent in that hospital on Friday 14th February. After two careful reviews of the prostatic tissue in their laboratory the final report was issued out on 24th February as prostate adenocarcinoma (cancer) of intermediate grade.

Dilemma on My Choice of Mode of Treatment: The urologist explained the nature of the disease and the various options for treatment. In his opinion the best and most suitable treatment option for me was radical prostatectomy either by open surgery or by robotic-assisted procedure. Surprisingly what helped me to make up my mind did not come from high peer-reviewed medical journal (even as I am a doctor); it came from a Health & Fitness article (as I am now a patient rather than a doctor). The article that took me to the decision was an online one titled “Robotic Surgery for Prostate Cancer: An Automatic Choice?” by Lisa Farino for MSN Health & Fitness. The key words of the article caught my attention “It’s essential to consider a surgeon’s experience when deciding on treatment”. In this article Farino reviewed a number of issues on RRP including what was ‘robotic’ about prostate surgery, patients’ misconceptions about the procedure, what research said and did not say about open vs robotic prostate surgery and then concluded on the final note on surgeon’s experience. She then wrote, “The bottom line: The biggest factor determining the key outcomes of prostate surgery isn’t whether or not the surgeon uses a robot. With a highly experienced, talented surgeon, both open and robotic prostate surgeries can be performed well. The trick is identifying that highly experienced, talented surgeon who’ll give you the best chance of curing your cancer and preserving your quality of life afterwards.” She concluded by quoting Dr. Eric Klein, M.D., a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who said, “The robot is a tool; to have the best outcomes, you want to choose your surgeon, not your tool.”

So I set out to find and decide on the right surgeon.
I flew to Medanta – The Medicity, Gurgaon with my wife and met Dr. Gagan Gautam – Head of Robotic Surgery in his office on Saturday 28th February 2014.
He took history of my condition and examined me. He reviewed the investigations I had done in the Hyderabad hospital. He concurred with diagnosis done there. He took me through the options for treatment taking into consideration my age, my African origin, my good state of health (freedom from co-morbidity like diabetes, hypertension/heart disease) and the stage of the disease (confined to the prostate gland). He did so in great detail with humour and compassion. He agreed with my Hyderabad urologist on the mode of treatment for me. He then asked me to take time the make the decision on mode of my choice; operative treatment is normally done 6 weeks after the biopsy. He however advised that the prostate tissue be re-examined in Medanta to confirm the pathologic diagnosis given at Hyderabad and that I should do MRI of the prostate/pelvis at Hyderabad before my next appointment. I returned home Hyderabad that afternoon. I later obtained my prostate biopsy tissue blocks and slides and mailed them to Medanta hospital; the diagnosis was confirmed there.
After due consultation with my family and my other medical colleagues/friends, I opted for robot assisted radical prostatectomy by Dr. Gautam and his team. As I waited for the 6 week window, I read a lot on prostate cancer, its modes of treatment and in particular the RRP. It was a most trying moment in my life. Waiting for the date of the surgery was like eternity.

Pre-operative Assessment: Eventually the date was fixed on 31st March 2014. I flew with my wife to Gurgaon in the morning of Saturday 29th March. I was reviewed again by Dr. Gautam in his office. He reviewed the MRI examination I did in Hyderabad. It guided him on the tissue planes for the operative dissection. He re-examined me and then explained to me his plans for the operation. Later in the day, I underwent general clinical (heart, vascular & lung functions) and laboratory assessment (esp liver, kidney and blood clotting functions) as outpatient so as to ascertain my fitness to undergo the general anaesthesia, surgery and post-operative convalescence. I was seen by the anaesthetist and cardiologist. The assessment confirmed my state of good health. I was then admitted into the hospital in the morning of Sunday 30th March in readiness for the surgery on the following day.

Admission & Surgery: Early morning of Monday 31st March Dr. Gautam and team visited me and gave me assurance and confidence to face the surgery. That afternoon I was taken, in the company of my wife, to the operating theatre (OT) at around 2.30pm. The moment had come. In transit from the ward to the OT I lay supine watching the ceiling; the lamps therein moved pass me in parallax as I was wheeled on down the corridor. Finally we arrived at the OT and my wife was told to stay back; she bid me good bye. She was hoping, but not quite sure, that she would see me alive again soon. It was an emotional moment. I was taken into the theatre and she departed. I kept on praying. In the next moments the anaesthetists made final assessment of me. Eventually they put a mask on my face and asked me to breath in the gas. That was the last thing I remember as I slept. I woke up in what I came to know to be the recovery ward. The actual operation surgery took about 3 hours (2hrs and 40 minutes console time).

I made good and quick recovery and was discharged with urinary (Foley’s) catheter in place on the 3rd day after the operation (Thursday 3rd April). I was given appointment to return to the hospital for assessment and removal of the catheter on 8th April, eight days after the operation. I was given the necessary medicines to use and was instructed on the care of the catheter, the need to ambulate and do respiratory exercises. I stayed in a paying guest house across the road from the hospital. My stay in the house was uneventful and I made speedy recovery. The urine being drained into a bag has become grossly clear of blood by the 4th day. On the appointed date, I was re-admitted into the hospital’s urology day-care-ward. The urinary catheter was removed. I was instructed on how to do (Kegel) exercise to improve my external sphincter (pelvic floor, pubococcygeal) muscles in order to enhance voluntary control of urine voiding; I had already known how to do this even before the operation. Thereafter underwent simple ultrasound examination of the urinary bladder to determine residual urine volume after voluntary voiding of the bladder; it showed only 12mL which indicate good voiding. I was discharged later in the afternoon after about five hours of admission. Over the next several weeks I made good recovery. Within two weeks I was able to control my urination voluntarily such that I rarely wet my pants. I was able to hold urine well and void voluntarily at regular intervals of two hours.

Seven Months On After Surgery…: After the surgery I remained in my home in Hyderabad with the family until 30th May 2014 when we returned abroad.

Bladder Control: I virtually have full bladder control. I void on urge with good stream and without efforts. I make no conscious control of my liquid intake but I still avoid intake at bed time. I hardly wake up to void until my usual wake up time of 4am. Except when I sneeze or cough I hardly have any spill of urine; when I can anticipate these I can still keep check on it. I go out wearing my regular underpants without pad. Until my return home after the day’s business I do not go to the toilet to void more frequently than ordinary.
Even before surgery I used to void with reasonably good (jet) stream. However, I realize that it now takes me shorter time to completely empty my bladder (with ease). This implies that before the surgery my urine outflow must have been partially compromised even as ultrasound examination showed only small (acceptable) post-voiding residual urine. This was most likely due to the tortuous course of the urethra within the enlarged prostate.
Erectile Function: I am satisfied with the surprising return of the degree of this function within these seven months of the surgery especially in consideration of what I had read of the guarded prognosis on erectile dysfunction post operatively in the initial months.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA): the level of this antigen in the body is taken as a diagnostic marker for the risk of prostate cancer and, after prostatectomy, serial levels are used to monitor the prognosis. Before my operation, the first indicator to the diagnosis of cancer, my level was about 3½ times the expected highest normal level. It was usually expected that within six to eight weeks after prostatectomy the level should fall below 0.20ng/mL.
Below were the serial levels of my PSA:
• March 31th (pre-op): 16.85ng/mL
• May 12th (1½ months post op): 0.071ng/mL
• August 12th (4½months post-op): 0.02ng/mL
• October 13th (6½months post-op): ˂ 0.01ng/mL
These results are interpreted to imply successful removal of the prostate/cancer tissue.

Dr. Gagan Gautam: I am a fellow of, trainer/teacher and examiner in, two regional postgraduate medical colleges abroad, each with structured 4year training programmes. Most of my clinical/academic practice at home and abroad, since my medical graduation in 1978, has been in teaching and specialist tertiary hospitals. I have had the opportunity to head a largest state government-owned (1000-bed) hospital. I have also been appointed by both these colleges and national medical regulatory council to assess and accredit hospitals for postgraduate training across the country. I am therefore in good position to recognise a good hospital and to identify exceptionally talented doctors.
Dr. Gautam is a good doctor, an excellent clinician and a fine surgeon. He gave me good impression of himself from the very moment I first met him in his office on Saturday 28th February. In the course of his interviewing me, my wife and I sat across his desk. He took detailed history of my condition and made careful, thorough and relevant examination of me in a basic and professional manner. After the clinic examination he reviewed the laboratory investigation I had in Hyderabad. He then summarized his evaluation of, and opinion on, my case in a lucid and unassuming manner. He described the disease, its risks, modes of treatment and prognosis as was specifically relevant to me. He left open the choice of options of the treatment to me. In the course of the discussion, he made direct eye contact with us. I observed his good knowledge of the issues on the disease and his confidence in his competence to deal with its management. I also observed his calmness and composure. He moved his hands only when necessary and his fingers showed no tremors – features of a good surgeon. His humility as a doctor and respect for his patient and colleague (me) were obvious. We were satisfied with him and by the time we concluded the consultation we believed that we made the right choice of the surgeon I needed.
My second visit to his office was a day prior to my admission for the operation. He reviewed the MRI films and report done in my Hyderabad hospital. He re-examined me again and then made and explained his plan and extent of the surgery he will do for me. Even though the procedure for the operation is fairly standardized, the plan he prepared for me was customized to my condition. He was to remove all the prostate en-bloc including the regional lymph tissue while carefully sparing and preserving the nerves that regulate for bladder sphincter control and conserve erectile function. This tight-roped plan is aimed at removing (all or as much of as is possible and feasible) the cancer tissue leading to cure and ensuring good quality; the universal goals of the treatment are, first, to cure the patient (i.e., the prostate cancer is removed completely) and, secondly, to help the patient maintain urinary control (or continence, the absence of urinary leakage), and erectile function.
He performed my operation very well and successfully. My family and I appreciate the precision with which he did this. The serial level of my PSA over the past seven months is testimony to the success of the procedure. It is hoped that this marker will remain undetectable over time indicative of my cure. The overall quality of my life after the operation is beyond my expectation. I have been in close contact with him and he has remained consistent in his care and humility. I shall live the rest of my life appreciating how the operation he performed has turned around my life after the dreadful diagnosis. Medanta hospital is lucky to have him; he is a great asset.
I will not hesitate to recommend him to any patient on personal and professional grounds.

Dr. B.A.U


Cost of prostate cancer treatment in India

Being told by a doctor that you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer is probably one of the most traumatic experiences that anyone can have. The road ahead becomes uncertain and every step seems tricky and arduous. There is little doubt that prostate cancer extracts a psychological cost from the person it afflicts and also from his near and dear ones. This impact can be lessened by a compassionate and confident healthcare provider and perhaps more so, by caring and understanding family members.

The next step ideally involves an informative exchange of information amongst all stakeholders to ascertain a coherent plan of treatment. One of the major realities that one has to face in this situation is the cost of prostate cancer treatment, specially since this financial burden is often unexpected and unplanned for in a country like India, where the vast majority of population does not have medical insurance. What follows are a few important pieces of information about the expected cost of prostate cancer treatment in India, which fortunately, is still way below that seen in most parts of the world.

I shall be covering three established prostate cancer treatment options – Surgery, Radiation therapy and Hormone therapy. Other treatment options like HIFU, Cryotherapy and Cyberknife cannot be routinely recommended for the treatment of prostate cancer in India currently, since they are in an early phase of adoption with little information available about their long term outcomes and complications. Moreover, the discussion on how to choose the right treatment for prostate cancer is beyond the scope of this blog and will be addressed in another post.

Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy or Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) as it is called in medical terminology implies the use of injections to suppress the level of Testosterone (male hormone) in the body to near – zero levels. This acts to decrease the growth and spread of prostate cancer for a duration of time ranging from a few months to a few years. While it is the mainstay of treatment for prostate cancer which has spread to other parts of the body (stage 4 or metastatic cancer), it is NOT recommended as the ONLY treatment for most cases of prostate cancer which is limited to the prostate region (localized prostate cancer) since it does not cure the disease but only controls it for some time. Invariably, with time the cancer starts becoming resistant to hormone therapy and starts spreading after that. The cost of hormone therapy ranges from 16,000 – 30,000 INR for an injection, which is to be given every 3 months. Some of the brands available in India are Zoladex®, Lucrin®, Eligard® and Pamorelin®.

Important points to discuss with your doctor:

  • A more expensive injection is not necessarily more effective. One should go for a cheaper, yet trusted brand to ensure that adequate effectiveness is achieved without excessive financial burden.
  • An injection imported from outside India is not necessarily more effective than an indigenous version.
  • You can often get these injections at up to 20% less than the MRP if you directly purchase it from the company representative. Your doctor should be able to provide you with the contact details.
  • Be careful about the storage requirements of the injection. Some of these require to be kept refrigerated during transportation and storage to maintain effectiveness.
  • A longer acting version (6 months) may be a cheaper option than two 3 monthly injections.
  • Removal of testes (surgical castration or bilateral orchidectomy) is a less expensive alternative to injections in the long run but is associated with an adverse psychological impact due to changes related to body image.

Radiation therapy: Radiation treatment is an alternative to surgery in patients who have prostate cancer that is localized to the area of the prostate and has not spread to other parts of the body. In most circumstances, radiation therapy needs to be combined with hormone therapy for 2 to 3 years in order for it to come close to the effectiveness and cure rates of surgery alone. Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) is currently the standard benchmark for the radiation treatment of prostate cancer in India. It is delivered over 6 to 8 weeks with 5 daily sessions in a week. The cost ranges from 2.0 – 2.5 lacs (200,000 to 250,000 INR) in most private institutions in the country with advanced radiation facilities. The addition of hormone therapy to this treatment increases the cost by about 65,000 to 1,20,000 INR per year bringing the total cost of treatment to about 4.0 to 6.0 lacs (400,000 – 600,000 INR), albeit spread over 2 to 3 years.

Brachytherapy, which is a form of radiation for early prostate cancer, involves the placement of radioactive ‘seeds’ in the prostate under the guidance of an ultrasound machine. These seeds need to be imported from abroad and the treatment can cost anywhere from 5.0 – 8.0 lacs (500,000 – 800,000 INR) depending on the number of seeds required and the prevailing currency exchange rate. It is one of the more expensive options for treatment, especially if it is combined with hormone therapy.

Surgery: The complete removal of the prostate, along with the adjoining structures (seminal vesicles, lymph nodes etc.) done with an intention to cure a patient of prostate cancer is called Radical prostatectomy. It can be performed in an open conventional manner or with laparoscopy or robotic surgery. Robotic surgery for prostate cancer is now available in the country and is currently considered by many to be the best treatment for prostate cancer in India. It has the advantages of a faster recovery, greater precision and lesser complications as compared to conventional surgery for prostate cancer. The cost of robotic prostate cancer surgery in India is usually in the range of 3.5 to 4.0 lacs (350,000 – 400,000). While this cost is about 30% more than that of conventional surgery, some of this gets offset by the earlier discharge from hospital, less medication use and decreased chances of additional treatment due to decreased complication rates with robotic surgery.

In summary, while the ideal treatment for prostate cancer in a particular patient differs from individual to individual based on their age, overall health status and stage of the disease, cost considerations do play a major role in the decision making process. All these implications should be discussed with your doctor in order to arrive at the most suitable decision.

This article has been written by Dr. Gagan Gautam, who is the head of urological cancer surgery and robotic surgery at Max Institute of Cancer Care, New Delhi, India. He is fellowship trained in robotic cancer surgery from the University of Chicago Medical Center, USA and is currently the leading robotic surgeon for prostate, kidney and bladder cancer in India. His institution, Max Hospitals, Saket, New Delhi is an 800 bedded tertiary hospital located just 20 min away from the International airport. It is an NABH accredited institution and is recognised as one of the best hospitals for prostate cancer treatment in India. It is equipped with state of the art diagnostic and therapeutic infrastructure including the Da Vinci Xi HD robotic surgical system, which is used by Dr. Gautam to perform robotic surgery on his patients who travel from all over India and other parts of the world.   

 To know more about his work, please visit www.roboticsurgerydelhi.com

To view Dr. Gautam’s profile, please click here

 If you would like to submit a query or seek an appointment with Dr. Gautam, please click here

 To know more about robotic surgery for prostate cancer, please click here

 To watch a video demonstration of robotic prostate cancer surgery, please click here

To read about the expected course of recovery after robotic surgery, please click here

To read a patient’s first hand account on the experience of undergoing robotic prostate surgery, please click here

To read about active surveillance and watchful waiting for prostate cancer, please click here

Robotic surgery for prostate cancer in India – A video demonstration

Dr Gagan Gautam, head of robotic surgery and urologic cancer surgery at Max Institute of Cancer Care, New Delhi, India, demonstrates the tips and tricks of robotic surgery for prostate cancer. A systematic and simplified approach decreases complications and enhances the recovery after robotic surgery for prostate cancer. By reducing the duration of surgery and stay in the hospital, it also serves to decrease the cost of prostate cancer treatment in India which offsets the cost of robotic surgery to a large extent.

Max Hospital, Saket is one of the best hospitals for prostate cancer treatment in India and provides specialist services for the treatment for all stages of prostate cancer. Robotic surgery for prostate cancer is a state of the art technique which improves recovery, decreases complications and provides excellent survival benefits to patients with stages 1 to 3 prostate cancer.

To know more about his work, please visit http://www.roboticsurgerydelhi.com

To view Dr. Gautam’s profile, please click here

If you would like to seek an appointment with Dr. Gautam, please click here

To know more about robotic prostate cancer surgery at Max Hospital, New Delhi, please click here

To read about the expected recovery after this surgery, please click here.

To read a patient’s first hand account on the experience of undergoing robotic prostate surgery, please click here

To read about the cost of prostate cancer treatment in India, please click here

To read about active surveillance and watchful waiting for prostate cancer, please click here

What is the best prostate cancer treatment in India?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men all over the world and can cause a significant loss of quality and quantity of life in men affected by this disease. However, if detected at an early stage it can also be completely cured or controlled for a very long time with modern treatment methods available today. Max Institute of Cancer Care (a part of Max Hospitals, Saket) is an advanced tertiary care medical center in New Delhi, India with state of the art facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

The Disease

For a proper plan of treatment to be implemented, it is imperative to diagnose and stage the disease. The diagnosis is achieved by a prostate biopsy performed in response to either an abnormal PSA (prostate specific antigen) test and/or an abnormal physical examination of the prostate. Gleason score is a system devised by pathologists to quantify the aggressiveness of prostate cancer on the basis of how it looks under a microscope, after the biopsy specimen is made into a slide. As the Gleason score increases, prostate cancer becomes more aggressive.

Staging comes next. Staging involves an assessment of how far prostate cancer has spread from the prostate. If the disease is confined to the prostate itself, it is said to be localized. If it has gone outside the prostate but has not spread to the rest of the body, it is locally advanced and if it has spread to other parts of the body, it is said to be metastatic. An assessment of the spread of disease can be made by performing 2 tests – MRI of the prostate region and an MDP Bone scan.

The Operation

Robotic prostate cancer surgery (Robotic prostatectomy) is the most advanced treatment and in most circumstances, the best prostate cancer treatment in India (and in the world) today. For localized prostate cancer, it offers a very high cure rate with minimal long-term side effects. Even for locally advanced disease, it provides excellent long-term control/cure when used as the initial main step in a multi modality treatment approach with radiation and/or hormone therapy.

The main advantages of a robotic prostate cancer surgery are greater precision, faster recovery, lesser blood loss, less pain and better preservation of urinary control and sexual function as compared to conventional treatment. 95% of patients are able to leave the hospital within 24-48 hours after surgery and are fit for travel within 1 – 2 weeks.

The cost of prostate cancer treatment in India with robotic surgery is 3.5 to 4.0 lacs INR, approximately. For overseas patients, it works out to be approximately $8500 (US).  This includes cost of stay, all medicines, surgery charges, basic investigations and equipment used for the surgery. Additional investigations or treatment may incur extra charges but are usually not required.

The Surgeon

Dr. Gagan Gautam is the head of urologic cancer surgery and robotic surgery at Max Institute of Cancer Care, Saket, New Delhi. He is a US fellowship trained robotic urological cancer surgeon and his entire practice is exclusive to the surgical care of patients suffering from prostate, kidney and urinary bladder cancer. He has an extensive experience of working in top national and international hospitals including the University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, USA, considered as one of the most advanced centers for robotic cancer surgery in the world today.

Dr. Gautam is the leading robotic urological cancer surgeon in the country and has pioneered several advanced procedures for the treatment of prostate cancer in India . His endeavours are focussed towards providing his patients the most advanced and cost effective robotic surgery procedures available only at leading international institutions. 

The Hospital

Max Institute of Cancer Care at Saket, New Delhi is a part of an 800 bed state of the art tertiary care medical center situated just 20 minutes away from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. It is the hub of medical tourism in the region with many national and international patients undergoing complex surgical treatments here at any point of time. It is in the process of being accredited by Joint Commission International  (JCI) for its high standards of patient care and safety and is recognised as one of the best hospitals for cancer treatment in India. The hospital is equipped with the most advanced diagnostic and therapeutic equipment including the Da Vinci Xi HD robotic system which is used by Dr. Gautam to perform robotic prostate cancer surgery on his patients.

For our overseas patients, the medical center has a well staffed and efficient international patients’ division which caters exclusively to and facilitates the treatment of our guests from abroad. Facilities include currency exchange, exclusive pharmacy counters, interpreters for all major global languages, pick up and drop facilities from the airport, comfortable and economical guest house accommodation and visa paperwork.

Contact Details

To contact Dr. Gagan Gautam or to seek an appointment with him, please click here.

To view Dr. Gautam’s profile, please click here.

To know more about his work, please visit his website www.roboticsurgerydelhi.com.

To read his blog on recovery after robotic surgery for prostate cancer, please click here.

To read a patient’s first hand account on the experience of undergoing robotic prostate surgery, please click here

To watch a video on robotic surgery, please click here.

To read about the cost of prostate cancer treatment in India, please click here.

To read about active surveillance and watchful waiting for prostate cancer, please click here.