Considering the role of radical prostatectomy in 21st century prostate cancer care

Nat Rev Urol. 2020 Mar;17(3):177-188. doi: 10.1038/s41585-020-0287-y. Epub 2020 Feb 21.


The practice of radical prostatectomy for treating prostate cancer has evolved remarkably since its general introduction around 1900. Initially described using a perineal approach, the procedure was later popularized using a retropubic one, after it was first described as such in 1948. The open surgical method has now largely been abandoned in favour of the minimally invasive robot-assisted method, which was first described in 2000. Until 1980, the procedure was hazardous, often accompanied by massive blood loss and poor outcomes. For patients in whom surgery is indicated, prostatectomy is increasingly being used as the first step in a multitherapeutic approach in advanced local, and even early metastatic, disease. However, contemporary molecular insights have enabled many men to safely avoid surgical intervention when the disease is phenotypically indolent and use of active surveillance programmes continues to expand worldwide. In 2020, surgery is not recommended in those men with low-grade, low-volume Gleason 6 prostate cancer; previously these men - a large cohort of ~40% of men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer - were offered surgery in large numbers, with little clinical benefit and considerable adverse effects. Radical prostatectomy is appropriate for men with intermediate-risk and high-risk disease (Gleason score 7-9 or Grade Groups 2-5) in whom radical prostatectomy prevents further metastatic seeding of potentially lethal clones of prostate cancer cells. Small series have suggested that it might be appropriate to offer radical prostatectomy to men presenting with small metastatic burden (nodal and or bone) as part of a multimodal therapeutic approach. Furthermore, surgical treatment of prostate cancer has been reported in cohorts of octogenarian men in good health with minimal comorbidities, when 20 years ago such men were rarely treated surgically even when diagnosed with localized high-risk disease. As medical therapies for prostate cancer continue to increase, the use of surgery might seem to be less relevant; however, the changing demographics of prostate cancer means that radical prostatectomy remains an important and useful option in many men, with a changing indication.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / history
  • Lymph Node Excision / trends
  • Male
  • Prostate / anatomy & histology
  • Prostate / pathology
  • Prostate / surgery*
  • Prostatectomy / history*
  • Prostatectomy / methods
  • Prostatectomy / trends
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / history*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Robotic Surgical Procedures / history*
  • Robotic Surgical Procedures / methods