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Sound waves treat prostate cancer with fewer side effects

by British Journal of Cancer | News

1 July 2009

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An Experimental cancer therapy for prostate cancer may be able to treat men without surgery and offer fewer side effects according to the results of a UK study published in the British Journal of Cancer* today (Wednesday).

A group of 172 men with prostate cancer that had not spread were treated under general anaesthetic with High-Intensity-Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) – which uses sound waves to kill cancer cells. The trial took place at two centres – University College Hospital in London and the privately owned Princess Grace Hospital, also in London.

The men taking part in the trial were discharged on average five hours after receiving the HIFU treatment. Typically men with prostate cancer are treated with either surgery or radiotherapy. Surgery usually requires a two to three day inpatient stay and radiotherapy requires daily treatment as an outpatient for up to one month.

Of the initial group, 159 men were followed up a year later. Three quaters of those followed up showed no biochemical recurrence of prostate cancer one year later.

The number of patients reporting bowel problems and incontinence appeared to be low. Eight out of 12 patients for whom data was available after one year were potent.

This was not a comparative study but one year following the traditional treatments of surgery and radiotherapy it would be expected that 5-20 per cent of patients would have incontinence and half have impotence. Radiotherapy can also cause side-effects such as diarrhoea, pain and bleeding in 5-20 per cent of people treated.

Dr Hashim Ahmed from UCL’s division of surgical and interventional science, who ran the trial, said: “This study suggests it’s possible that HIFU may one day play a role in treating men with early prostate cancer with fewer side effects. But we don’t yet know for sure if HIFU is more effective than traditional treatments so it will be important to carry out further studies involving a larger number of patients followed over a longer period of time to truly compare the long term effectiveness of this treatment.”

High-Intensity-Focused-Ultrasound or HIFU uses high frequency sound waves to heat up small accurately-targeted amounts of tissue to a temperature of 80-90?C. It can be used to treat the whole prostate, as in this study, or just the cancer areas.

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said: “This technique needs careful evaluation to make sure that it can produce the same results as the proven treatments for early prostate cancer. If the treatment can be shown to have less side effects then that will be excellent news, but more research is needed to show this. Cancer Research UK is funding a trial to look at this question and we hope that further studies can be carried out to compare HIFU to standard treatments”.


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 Ahmed, H. et al (2009). High-intensity-focused ultrasound in the treatment of primary prostate cancer: the first UK series British Journal of Cancer, 101 (1), 19-26 DOI: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605116