DANA POINT, Calif. -- Salvaging a nerve from the ankle, surgeons have found they can rewire the penis so men achieve erections and have sex after operations to remove their cancerous prostate glands.
Doctors say the nerve grafts are not as good as the original nerves, but they do allow some men to regain sexual function when they otherwise would be undoubtedly left impotent.
"It seems to have promise, certainly over doing nothing," said Dr. Joseph J. Disa, a plastic surgeon who performs the surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He outlined the new approach Wednesday at an American Cancer Society meeting at Dana Point.
Usually, doctors can preserve male sexual function after prostate surgery by saving the two nerves that carry signals to the penis to fill with blood, allowing erections. But if the cancer is too close to the nerves, one or both of them must be cut, often leaving patients impotent.
The new approach uses a stretch of nerve removed from the ankle to fill in the gap left between the two severed ends of these nerves, which run next to the prostate gland.
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