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Prostate Cancer and Private Sector Health

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 25 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Prostate Cancer Cancer Treatment Private

Many people associate private hospitals and private healthcare with cosmetic surgery and routine operations such as hip replacements or knee replacements. But this is far from a realistic view of private healthcare in the UK today. It now quite usual for more serious conditions such as prostate cancer to be treated privately.

What is Prostate Cancer?

This is a common cancer that affects one in three men and that becomes more likely with age. Some prostate cancers are very aggressive but the vast majority are relatively slow growing. With careful monitoring and treatment, prostate cancer can become a chronic condition that men live with for years. Often, something else completely unrelated to the prostate cancer is eventually responsible for their death.

Private Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Opting to have treatment for prostate cancer as a private patient can be costly but many men have private medical insurance through their employer and want to take advantage of this to reduce the amount of time they need to take off work for treatment. In general, waiting time for appointments and treatment is shorter in the private system, although the NHS has improved its track record in the last few years.

Having a Radical Prostatectomy in a Private Hospital

A large number of private hospitals now have surgical suites, state-of-the-art modern diagnostic and scanning equipment and the capacity to provide a range of treatments for prostate cancer, including surgical removal of the prostate gland. A radical prostatectomy is the medical term used to describe an operation in which the prostate gland and the associated seminal vesicles are completely removed.

Having the operation in a private hospital requires the time of the surgeon, oncologist, anaesthetist and support team and can cost around £5000.

Men whose cancer has not spread out of the prostate gland are often treated surgically. For a localised prostate cancer, this operation usually results in a very high cure rate. Over 90 per cent of men with this type of prostate cancer will survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Some men also require this type of operation if their cancer cannot be cured but their enlarged prostate is pressing on their urethra causing problems with urine flow.

How is the Prostate Gland Removed?

The surgery is frequently performed using a keyhole technique using laparoscopic instruments. This is less invasive than having open surgery – instead of a long incision at the base of the abdomen the surgeon just makes five very small incisions. The instruments, including a tiny camera and light and the scalpel and cutting instruments are placed into the body through these incisions. The surgeon uses the image transmitted from the camera to see what he or she is doing. This is a tricky procedure and can take about three hours.

What About Radiotherapy?

Some forms of radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer are also available in private hospitals in the UK. Brachytherapy, in which tiny radioactive capsules are implanted inside the prostate gland, is possible at a growing number of private healthcare centres. Both LDR – low dose rate and HDR – high dose rate brachytherapy are offered by some private hospitals.

In a short operation the surgeon inserts the radioactive capsules into the prostate. This is done with a local rather than a general anaesthetic and does not require an overnight hospital stay. Usually the whole thing is over in about 45 minutes and recovery is quick. Most men are back to work or doing normal activities within two days.

Studies are still being done but this form of local radiotherapy seems to be just as effective as external beam radiotherapy, which is not usually done privately because of the cost of the equipment involved. It is possible to have this type of radiotherapy done privately, but really only in the bigger, more expensive private centres in London.

Monitoring and Follow up

An important part of care in prostate cancer is careful ‘watching and waiting’. This may be before any formal treatment has been done, or after surgery or radiotherapy. Private hospitals can organise and carry out the follow up needed in cases of prostate cancer over many years.

The major advantages of private care is the speed with which your appointments come through, the choice that you have with appointments and the higher standard of some of the facilities, such as private rooms, more car parking and more personal attention by less harassed staff.

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