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New treatment for prostate cancer shows promise
UK doctors carry out first trial of a prostate cancer treatment that targets small clusters of cancer cells instead of the whole prostate
17th April 2012 - A new treatment for prostate cancer has been carried out in London which holds out the prospect of being more effective while involving fewer side-effects.
Doctors at University College Hospital used high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to treat small patches of cancer cells, a technique known as focal therapy.
The procedure differs from current standard treatment in which the whole prostate is treated with radiotherapy or removed surgically. Both these treatments can lead to significant problems. These include:
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK, with 37,000 receiving a diagnosis every year. 250,000 men are currently living with the disease.
Doctors in the latest trial recruited 41 men aged 45 to 80 who had localised prostate cancer but had not received treatment for the disease. Small areas of cancer cells were targeted with high-intensity ultrasonic waves generated by a transducer in the rectum, and delivered by a probe. This process generated heat in the target tissues, and the thermal energy produced was sufficient to destroy the cancer cells.
After 12 months none of the men in the trial had urinary incontinence and almost nine out of 10 men (89%) could attain satisfactory erections.
The researchers also found that 95% of the men who underwent biopsies were cancer-free after a year, although four had needed retreatment with the focal therapy.
Writing in the journal Lancet Oncology, the authors, led by Dr Hashim Ahmed, say, "focal therapy of individual prostate cancer lesions, regardless of whether they are multifocal or unifocal, leads to a low rate of genitourinary side-effects and an encouraging rate of early freedom from clinically significant prostate cancer".
Further studies needed
The researchers say larger studies are now needed to confirm their initial findings.
Commenting on the study, Owen Sharp, chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity said: "We welcome the development of any prostate cancer treatment which limits the possibility of damaging side-effects such as incontinence and impotence. These early results certainly indicate that focal HIFU has the potential to achieve this in the future."
He adds in a statement: "However, we need to remember that this treatment was given to fewer than 50 men, without follow-up over a sustained period of time. We look forward to the results of further trials, which we hope will provide a clearer idea of whether this treatment can control cancer in the long term whilst ridding men of the fear that treating their cancer might mean losing their quality of life."