PM Lee undergoes surgery: Doctors expect quick recovery

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has an excellent chance of being "as good as normal" after he recovers from surgery, doctors have said.

Mr Lee was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month and will undergo robot-assisted surgery to remove his prostate gland today.

Urologists told The Straits Times that such surgery has been made easier with the use of robotic instruments.

A surgeon's hand movements on a console are "translated" by a robotic system, which makes fine surgical cuts on the patient's body, said Dr Sim Hong Gee, senior consultant urologist at Gleneagles Hospital. He was Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's surgeon during his treatment for prostate cancer last November.

As the process is less invasive compared with open surgery, the recovery period is twice as fast, said Dr Michael Wong, consultant urologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. "We can expect better outcomes, faster recovery and less pain. I think we can see PM Lee up on his feet in a week or so."

Doctors said Mr Lee's diagnosis in 1992 of lymphoma, which affects the immune system, did not cause his prostate cancer. It is also unlikely to affect his recovery.

"There are no studies that show prostate cancer and lymphoma are linked," said Singapore Urological Association president Tan Yeh Hong.

While the causes of prostate cancer are not clear, it is unlikely that stress has a part to play, he said. Rather, old age and a family history are more likely determinants of the disease.

The cancer occurs when a malignant tumour forms in the tissue of the prostate, a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system located below the bladder. Its main function is to secrete prostate fluid, a component of semen.

Fertility is affected after its removal. But as most men develop the cancer in their 50s or later after they have had children, this is usually not a key concern, said Dr Sim.

The cancer is the third most common among Singaporean men. Statistics show Chinese men have a higher risk of developing it, compared with Malay and Indian men.

Mr Lee's surgeon is Singapore General Hospital's lead urologist Christopher Cheng.

rachelay@sph.com.sg