Doctors say PM Lee should recover quickly from prostate surgery
Most patients take a few days, at most a week, to recover from prostate cancer surgery.
That was what doctors told The New Paper of the operation to treat the disease.
"In experienced hands, patients recover very well from surgery and need a few days' hospital stay at most," said Dr Sim Hong Gee, 45, a senior consultant urologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer in men and usually occurs after the age of 50, according to the National Cancer Centre Singapore website.
At 6pm yesterday, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) announced that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January, after a magnetic resonance imaging scan showed suspicious lesions on his prostate.
A subsequent biopsy found that one out of 38 samples contained cancer cells.
Mr Lee, who turned 63 last week, is scheduled to undergo robot-assisted keyhole surgery to remove his prostate gland today.
He chose to do so after he was advised by a panel of doctors and is expected to recover fully, said the PMO.
The operation will be performed by Singapore General Hospital lead urologist Professor Christopher Cheng, who was a pioneer in the use of robots in surgery.
During Mr Lee's week of medical leave, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean will be the acting Prime Minister.
By 10pm yesterday, Mr Lee received more than 10,000 comments on his Facebook page as members of the public flooded his page with well wishes.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, ministers and MPs also wished Mr Lee a speedy recovery on social media.
Mr Lee also posted a selfie on Facebook and thanked well-wishers for sending him their "concern, good wishes and encouraging words".
"I have already received so many e-mails, SMSes and messages through friends and contacts wishing me well. I'm all set for my op (today), and so are my surgeon and medical team."
Patients with a similar medical profile and treatment as Mr Lee have a cancer-specific survival rate of 99 per cent at 15 years, said the PMO, citing data from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the US.
The operation to remove the prostate gland, however, is not entirely without risks, said Dr Sim, who performed prostate cancer surgery on Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, 73, in November.
It is a delicate procedure where one has to be careful not to injure the surrounding muscles and nerves, he said.
But technological advances, such as the robotic keyhole surgery system, have made prostate cancer operations smoother.
Parkway Cancer Centre medical director Dr Ang Peng Tiam said: "Previously, it used to be open surgery.
"Now robots puncture a few holes in the abdominal walls to remove the prostate gland. There's less trauma for the patient."
Dr Ang, 57, who has been in practice for 33 years, said many men are able to live with prostate cancer, provided the cancer "lies quiet".
He said there are also other forms of treating prostate cancer such as radiotherapy, where radioactive seeds are placed into the prostate to kill the cancer cells.
Dr Sim advised men above 50, especially those who have a family history of prostate cancer, to look out for symptoms.
"If detected early, chances for curative treatment for cancer are much higher. In some cases, it may not be prostate cancer but enlargement or infection," he said.
Survivor: Blessed to detect cancer early
When Mr Simon Tan found out he had stage one prostate cancer in 1999, he thought his life was over.
"My mind went haywire. I called my family. My wife and daughter were crying. I was so badly affected I didn't know what to do next," he said.
But his doctor, Professor Christopher Cheng, reassured him that his condition could be treated with surgery to remove the affected prostate gland.
The only downside was that Mr Tan, then 47, would not be able to have any more children. "By then I didn't want any more children so I went for the surgery," he said.
Today, Mr Tan, 63, who has two children and two grandchildren, is a proud survivor of cancer.
The director of a shipping company is also a member of the Walnut Warriors, a support group for those affected by prostate cancer.
Following news of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being diagnosed with prostate cancer and set to undergo surgery today, Mr Tan recounted to The New Paper his own journey.
He said he first suspected something was wrong in late 1999 when he had constant sharp pains in his lower back.
"I would have very uncomfortable backaches that would disappear after a while. Then they would come back again," he said.
It prompted him to go for medical screenings. Even so, doctors did not detect anything wrong and prescribed him antibiotics.
"But when my prostate gland got bigger, I knew something was wrong. So I went for a biopsy and they found that I had an early stage of prostate cancer.
"In a way, I was blessed to have been able to detect the cancer early. Many people only see the symptoms at the third stage, which may be very late."
He said Prof Cheng, who is the doctor set to perform a similar operation on PM Lee, was very professional in handling his case.
"He told me the various treatments that I could undergo to take care of prostate cancer such as surgery and radiotherapy."
Mr Tan said his surgery went smoothly and he was out of the operating theatre in four hours.
"I wasn't in pain after the operation. There was no discomfort and I didn't suffer from incontinence."
He was discharged within a week and was back at work the following week.
He said he was one of the last few patients who underwent open surgery. "Those in my support group who underwent keyhole surgery were discharged even sooner than I was. They told me they recovered even faster."
Mr Tan has become more conscious about his fitness and diet.
"Now, I make sure I exercise regularly. I am also careful about what I eat. I don't want to harm my body," he said.
He also wished PM Lee a smooth and successful operation. "I wish him well and for a quick recovery. He should be able to recover fast."
SIX THINGS ABOUT PROSTATE CANCER
1 WHAT IS PROSTATE CANCER?
It occurs when a malignant tumour forms in the tissue of the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system located below the bladder.
2 WHO DOES IT AFFECT?
It typically affects those over the age of 50, although it is most often seen in those above the age of 70. Smoking and having a family history of prostate cancer can also increase the risk of developing the disease.
3 WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Some symptoms include urinating more often than normal, experiencing pain during urination and blood in the urine or semen. In its later stages, the growing prostate will pinch the urethra, making it more difficult to urinate.
4 WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE TREATMENTS?
In cases where the cancer is confined to the prostate gland, the condition can be treated by removing the prostate gland and the nearby tissue. Patients can also treat the condition through chemotherapy and external beam radiation therapy.
5 HOW TO PREVENT IT?
There are no proven methods that prevent prostate cancer, but regular exercise, a balanced diet and abstaining from smoking are helpful measures to take.
6 HOW CAN IT BE DIAGNOSED?
Prostate cancer can be detected through blood tests, as well as through ultrasounds and rectal examinations.
Top 10 cancers affecting S’pore men
6 Skin (including melanoma)
9 Kidney and other urinary cancers
10 Myeloid neoplasms
Source: National Cancer Centre S’pore