Incidence, etiology, location, prevention and treatment of positive surgical margins after radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer

J Urol. 1998 Aug;160(2):299-315.


Purpose: During radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer tumor at the surgical margin is a relatively frequent finding. We summarize the literature on the incidence, etiology, location, prevention and treatment of positive surgical margins after radical prostatectomy.

Materials and methods: The literature was reviewed for data on positive margins during radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer.

Results: Positive surgical margins may result from artifacts induced by tissue processing, incising inadvertently into the prostate or incising into extraprostatic tumor that has extended beyond the limits of resection. Patients with 10 ng./ml. or greater preoperative prostate specific antigen, biopsy Gleason score 7, multiple positive biopsies, or clinical stage T2b, T2c or T3 cancer have a higher risk of positive margins. Preoperative endorectal magnetic resonance imaging may be useful in staging a select group of patients. Neoadjuvant androgen deprivation reduces the incidence of positive margins but does not appear to delay progression or improve survival. The surgical approach, retropubic or perineal, may influence the location and etiology of positive margins. In general, nerve and bladder neck sparing procedures do not compromise tumor removal in appropriately selected patients. Positive margins increase the risk of progression and correlate with decreased cancer specific and overall survival. There is no consensus on the management of positive margins. External beam radiation and androgen deprivation may be administered as adjuvant therapy or at the time of recurrence.

Conclusions: Tumor at the specimen edge is an adverse prognostic factor. With appropriate patient selection and meticulous surgical technique some positive margins can be prevented. Controlled prospective randomized studies of postoperative therapy are needed before definitive recommendations can be made for treating positive margins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use
  • Artifacts
  • Biopsy
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplasm, Residual / etiology
  • Neoplasm, Residual / pathology
  • Neoplasm, Residual / prevention & control
  • Prostate / innervation
  • Prostate / surgery
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / analysis
  • Prostatectomy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • Urinary Bladder / surgery


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen