Preserving the cavernous nerves, the main autonomic nerve supply of the penis, is a major challenge of radical prostatectomy. Cavernous nerve injury during radical prostatectomy predominantly accounts for post-radical prostatectomy erectile dysfunction. The cavernous nerve is a bilateral structure that branches in a weblike distribution over the prostate surface and varies anatomically in individuals, such that standard nerve-sparing methods do not sufficiently sustain penile erection ability. As a consequence, researchers have focused on developing personalized cavernous nerve mapping methods applied to the surgical procedure aiming to improve postoperative sexual function outcomes.
We provide an updated overview of preclinical and clinical data of cavernous nerve mapping methods, emphasizing their strengths, limitations, and future directions.
A literature review was performed via Scopus, PubMed, and Google Scholar for studies that describe cavernous nerve mapping/localization.
Several cavernous nerve mapping methods have been investigated based on various properties of the nerve structures including stimulation techniques, spectroscopy/imaging techniques, and assorted combinations of these methods. More recent methods have portrayed the course of the main cavernous nerve as well as its branches based on real-time mapping, high-resolution imaging, and functional imaging. However, each of these methods has distinctive limitations, including low spatial accuracy, lack of standardization for stimulation and response measurement, superficial imaging depth, toxicity risk, and lack of suitability for intraoperative use.
While various cavernous nerve mapping methods have provided improvements in identification and preservation of the cavernous nerve during radical prostatectomy, no method has been implemented in clinical practice due to their distinctive limitations. To overcome the limitations of existing cavernous nerve mapping methods, the development of new imaging techniques and mapping methods is in progress. There is a need for further research in this area to improve sexual function outcomes and quality of life after radical prostatectomy.
Sexual medicine reviews. 2023 Jul 27 [Epub ahead of print]
Selman Unal, Biljana Musicki, Arthur L Burnett
The James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute and Department of Urology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21287, United States.