The influence of preservation or excision of the neurovascular bundles on return of sexual function is analyzed. Between 1982 and 1988, 600 men 34 to 72 years old underwent radical retropubic prostatectomy for prostate cancer. Of the 503 patients who were potent preoperatively and followed for a minimum of 18 months 342 (68%) are potent postoperatively. Three factors were identified that correlated with the return of sexual function: 1) age, 2) clinical and pathological stage, and 3) surgical technique (preservation or excision of the neurovascular bundle). In men less than 50 years old potency was similar in patients who had both neurovascular bundles preserved (90%) and patients who had 1 neurovascular bundle widely excised (91%). With advancing age of more than 50 years sexual function was better in patients in whom both neurovascular bundles were preserved than in patients in whom 1 neurovascular bundle was excised (p < 0.05). When the relative risk of postoperative impotence was adjusted for age the risk of postoperative impotence was 2-fold greater if there was capsular penetration or seminal vesicle invasion, or if 1 neurovascular bundle was excised (p < 0.05). These data indicate that the return of sexual function postoperatively in men more than 50 years old is quantitatively related to preservation of autonomic innervation. In these men when it is necessary to excise the neurovascular bundle on 1 side, consideration in the future should be given to approaches that may restore autonomic function through nerve regeneration, for example partial excision of the bundle or cavernous nerve grafts.
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