Saturday, July 31, 2010

Surgeons warn penis can only take so much electricity

A group of brave surgeons in Taiwan have been exploring the effects of electricity on penises. Concerned that men worldwide were risking toasted todgers - and obviously not overburdened with willing subjects - the dedicated researchers conducted the experiments on themselves. Their report, titled "Determination of Human Penile Electrical Resistance and Implication on Safety for Electrosurgery of Penis" is a slightly alarming insight into a field of surgery that at first begs the question: "What's wrong with using a scalpel?" Surprisingly, electrosurgery is not as shocking as it sounds. Pioneered by Dr William T Bovie in 1914, it's a relatively safe and hygienic method of cutting tissue using highly concentrated electric currents.

The current passes through a loop of fine wire, which can be used to lop off warts and moles and such, or through a fine needle in order to make incisions. And when it comes to waving cutting instruments anywhere near a patient's penis, the less blood the better - not to mention burns. Which is where the intrepid men from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Taiwan come in. Dr Vincent Tsai said that it's not uncommon for patients to choose electrosurgery for penis operations such as circumcisions and the removal of hypospadias. But to his knowledge, little research had been done into what extent it should be used on penises and just how much electricity a penis could take.

The only way to find out was to attach "surface electrodes the two ends of penis", he said. Taking into account that not all penises were created equally, the team also noted that the "impedance of the shaft" can be depicted by "some measurement and calculation". Voltage was applied. Anaesthetic was not. Dr Tsai said the main concerns with penile electrosurgery was the potential to injure nerve and vessel tissue required for erectile function. Field cases have found injuries can range from thrombosis to six days of paralysis to three weeks of disability and something called "nerve longitudinal split of axis cylinder". Dr Tsai's research confirmed all of these and more.

His verdict? "We would like to remind our colleagues that we should be careful when doing ES on patients' penis," he said. "Potential and subclinical injury to erectile tissue caused by electrosurgery on the penis cannot be underestimated." He suggested surgeons consider using less power and for shorter lengths of time. Or just switching to modern laser therapy. And despite the alarming potential, Dr Tsai said no penises were harmed during the course of the experiment.

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