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Ramsay C, Pickard R, Robertson C, et al. Systematic Review and Economic Modelling of the Relative Clinical Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness of Laparoscopic Surgery and Robotic Surgery for Removal of the Prostate in Men with Localised Prostate Cancer. Southampton (UK): NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (UK); 2012 Nov. (Health Technology Assessment, No. 16.41.)

Cover of Systematic Review and Economic Modelling of the Relative Clinical Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness of Laparoscopic Surgery and Robotic Surgery for Removal of the Prostate in Men with Localised Prostate Cancer

Systematic Review and Economic Modelling of the Relative Clinical Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness of Laparoscopic Surgery and Robotic Surgery for Removal of the Prostate in Men with Localised Prostate Cancer.

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Executive summary


Men diagnosed with cancer of the prostate, a sex gland located at the base of the bladder in the pelvis, have different treatment options depending on the severity of disease. One option is complete removal of the prostate, radical prostatectomy, which approximately 5000 men in the UK undergo each year. A keyhole surgical technique of radical prostatectomy either by standard laparoscopy or with the aid of robotic technology does appear to offer advantages in terms of reduced blood loss and quicker return to activity over the traditional open surgical approach. Advocates of the robotic system claim greater precision in dissection and more rapid gaining of surgeon competence than with the laparoscopic approach but the robotic system is costly. This review was designed to help inform decisions regarding the commissioning and use of robotic and laparoscopic surgery for men with localised prostate cancer in the NHS. The study aimed to:

  • describe clinical care pathways in a UK NHS context
  • determine the relative clinical effectiveness and safety of each procedure
  • perform a systematic review of existing economic evaluations of each procedure
  • determine which procedure is most likely to be cost-effective for implementation in the NHS
  • determine the influence of the learning curve on estimates of effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness
  • identify future research needs.


Clinical effectiveness review

MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, BIOSIS, Science Citation Index and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from 1995 onwards for primary studies. Conference abstracts from meetings of the European, American and British Urological Associations were also searched, websites consulted and reference lists scanned. Evidence was considered from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and non-randomised comparative studies and, for estimates of learning curve effects only, case series. Participants were men with clinically localised prostate cancer (preoperative clinical classification of tumour stage: cT1 or cT2) undergoing radical prostatectomy. Robotic radical prostatectomy was considered as the intervention and laparoscopic radical prostatectomy as the comparator. Outcome measures were adverse events, cancer-related outcomes, functional outcomes, patient-driven outcomes and descriptors of care. Two reviewers abstracted data and assessed the risk of bias of the included studies. For meta-analyses, a Bayesian indirect mixed-treatment comparison was used.


A systematic review of economic evaluations comparing the two forms of surgery was attempted. It was anticipated that this would be insufficient for decision-making and consequently a modelling exercise was planned. A discrete-event simulation model was produced reflecting the likely care pathways. Parameter estimates were derived from the systematic review of clinical effectiveness, a review of previous economic evaluations, other literature, the expert advisory group and other UK sources. The outputs of the model were costs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) for each procedure, incremental costs and QALYs, and incremental cost per QALY for a 10-year time horizon. Both costs and QALYs were discounted at the rate recommended by the UK Treasury of 3.5%. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis was performed to explore the uncertainty surrounding parameter estimates. This was combined with deterministic sensitivity analysis around variables believed to be key determinants of cost-effectiveness, including cost of the robotic system, number of procedures performed, positive margin rates and risk of biochemical recurrence.


Clinical effectiveness

The searches identified 2722 potentially relevant titles and abstracts, from which 914 reports were selected for full-text eligibility screening. From these, data were included from 19,064 patients across one RCT and 57 non-randomised comparative reports. Few of these were considered to have a low risk of bias. The results, although associated with some uncertainty, demonstrated that robotic surgery was associated with a lower risk of major adverse events such as organ injury, and lower rates of surgical margins positive for cancer [odds ratio (OR) 0.69; 95% credible interval 0.51 to 0.96; probability outcome favours robotic prostatectomy = 0.987]. The predicted probability of a positive margin was 17.6% following robotic prostatectomy compared with 23.6% for laparoscopic prostatectomy. Restriction of the meta-analysis to studies at low risk of bias did not change the direction of effect, but did decrease the precision of the effect size (odds ratio 0.73; 95% credible interval 0.29 to 1.75). The available data suggested no evidence of a difference in the proportion of men suffering urinary incontinence at 12 months (OR 0.55; 95% credible interval 0.09 to 2.84; probability outcome favours robotic prostatectomy = 0.783). There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions on the likely size of a differential effect on rates of cancer-related, patient-driven or erectile dysfunction outcomes. The data provided no evidence that learning contributed differently to positive margin rates between the two procedures (p = 0.755).


In the base-case analysis (10-year time horizon) the incremental cost per QALY for robotic prostatectomy was < £30,000 provided that the number of procedures performed per year with each robotic system was > 150 [when the number of procedures per year was 100, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was £47,822]. The probabilistic sensitivity analysis showed that the two procedures had a roughly equal likelihood of being considered cost-effective when the number of procedures per year was 150. When a lifetime time horizon was adopted the costs and QALYs for both procedures increased but the increase in QALYs more than compensated for the increase in cost of the robotic system and hence the incremental cost per QALY was < £30,000 for all of the scenarios considered. This includes a scenario in which the number of procedures performed per year was 50 and for which the most costly robotic equipment was used.

The results of the economic evaluation suggested that when the difference in positive margin rate estimated by meta-analysis of all included studies was used (base case), robotic radical prostatectomy was on average associated with an incremental cost per QALY that was less than the threshold value typically adopted by the NHS (£30,000) when the number of cases performed per year was ≥ 150. Only when optimistic assumptions were made for the positive margin rate (OR = 0.506) did the incremental cost per QALY for robotic prostatectomy fall below £30,000 for a throughput of 100 cases per year (when only 50 cases per year are performed the incremental cost per QALY was > £66,000).

In the base-case analysis, biochemical recurrence rates were assumed to be the same between treatments. A sensitivity analysis using the point estimate for the OR of differential rates between the treatments (0.89) resulted in a slight reduction in the incremental cost per QALY for all surgical capacity scenarios. In contrast to using the point estimate, doubling the chance of biochemical recurrence in line with the absolute rates documented in the meta-analysis further reduced the incremental cost per QALY such that it was < £30,000 when the number of procedures performed using the robotic system was ≥ 100 cases per year.

Strengths and limitations

The main limitations were the low quantity and poor quality of the data available on cancer-related outcomes and long-term adverse events of urinary and sexual dysfunction. Many published studies were poorly reported or lacked sufficient detail and much of the information available was unsuitable for meta-analysis. The paucity of data had implications for the economic evaluation. In particular, the limited data meant that there was insufficient evidence to assume that there was any difference between interventions for a number of parameters, a particular issue for biochemical recurrence. The impact of these assumptions was explored in sensitivity analyses.


The results of this study should be interpreted with caution because of uncertainty but they do demonstrate that robotic prostatectomy has advantages in terms of reducing both perioperative morbidity and the risk of a positive surgical margin. Although direct cancer outcome data were lacking, use of the differential margin rate in our model suggests that use of robotic prostatectomy may be associated with improved overall survival. There were no data to infer whether use of robotic surgery resulted in a lower risk of incontinence or sexual dysfunction, although this was modelled.

Robotic prostatectomy will always be more costly to the NHS because of the fixed capital and maintenance charges for the robotic system. Our modelling shows that this excess cost per case might be reduced by commercial negotiation and by maintaining a high throughput of cases in each centre of at least 100–150 procedures per year. The cost-effectiveness of robotic prostatectomy was predominantly driven by the difference in positive margin rate. Uncertainties remain concerning the potential for bias in the estimates and how positive margin rates impact on long-term outcomes; therefore, a degree of caution is warranted in the interpretation of the results.

Recommendations for further research

  • Well-designed prospective cohort studies directly comparing robotic and laparoscopic prostatectomy are required. Ideally such studies would be multicentre with long-term follow-up and would include independent assessment of prespecified measures of prostate cancer-specific survival, as well as independent recording of learning curve, urinary and sexual function and health-related quality of life.
  • Further evidence on the relationship between positive margin rates and long-term outcomes.
  • Research to elicit the short- and long-term postoperative health-state valuations (e.g. utility values) associated with prostatectomy and the contribution of different adverse consequences of surgery as perceived by men.
  • Agreed definitions of outcomes in urology and measures for recording them. This would require consensus work in partnership with governing bodies.
  • Research into strategies to improve the evaluation and potential dissemination of costly new technologies in the UK NHS.


  • Funding for this study was provided by the Health Technology Assessment programme of the National Institute for Health Research.
© 2012, Crown Copyright.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK115699
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