A new and experimental technique to treat prostate cancer may have fewer side effects than traditional treatment.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with about 36,000 diagnosed with the disease each year. Unlike many other cancers, prostate cancer usually progresses very slowly, and it can usually be cured if it is treated in its early stages.
Standard treatment with surgery or radiotherapy involves treating the whole prostate gland. Whilst this can be successful, it can also harm the surrounding tissue with a serious risk of side effects like urinary incontinence and impotence.
In many men, prostate cancer will not progress to a life threatening disease. This means that these side effects might be experienced unnecessarily. Consequently, research is now focused on treating prostate cancer with fewer side effects.
The latest trial aimed to see whether targeted ultrasound treatment could reduce the risk of incompetence and incontinence on men with early prostate cancer. The ‘proof of concept’ study was carried out on 41 patients by doctors at University College Hospital in London.
In this experimental trial, doctors used high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) aimed at small patches of cancer cells on the prostate. The probe, placed close to the prostate, emits sound waves that heat the targeted cells to 80C, causing minimal damage to the surrounding nerves and muscles.
Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London, said:
“This changes the paradigm. By focusing just on the areas of cancer we reduce the collateral damage to surrounding tissue."
Their results, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, showed that after 12 months none of the 41 men were incontinent and one in ten suffered impotence. The majority, 95 per cent, were cancer free after a year.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) which funded the study said that the results were promising. Hashim Ahmed said: “This study provides the proof-of-concept we need to develop a much larger trial to look at whether focal therapy is as effective as the current standard treatment in protecting the health of the men treated for prostate cancer in the medium and long term.”
"The next step is a large scale randomised controlled trial. This needs to be evaluated in a timely way so men can benefit."
If larger studies prove the technique effective, it may soon be available to patients with private medical insurance. If you want to receive private treatment, compare health insurance policies with full cancer cover.
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