Men's health * Healthy living

New treatment for prostate cancer has fewer side effects

New treatment for prostate cancer has fewer side effects Perfect outcome in nine out of ten men

A new treatment for prostate cancer appears to be effective against the disease with fewer serious side-effects, according to new research.

In a clinical trial, published in Lancet Oncology, researchers used high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to treat areas of cancer just a few millimetres in size, known as focal therapy. Sound waves cause the tissue to vibrate and heat to about 80 degrees, killing the cells in the target area.

Focal therapy is similar in principle to the "lumpectomy" operation commonly used as an alternative to a full mastectomy in breast cancer.

Currently, conventional treatment for prostate cancer involves treating the whole prostate with radiotherapy or surgery, which can damage the surrounding tissue leading to side-effects such as incontinence and impotence.

None of the 41 men taking part in the trial had incontinence a year after treatment, and just one in 10 suffered from impotence. The majority of men (95%) were also cancer-free.

With conventional treatment, around 50 per cent of men have a "perfect outcome" with good cancer control, no impotence and no incontinence.

Focal therapy is carried out under general anaesthetic and most patients are back home within 24 hours.

Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College Hospital, London, said: "Our results are very encouraging. We're optimistic that men diagnosed with prostate cancer may soon be able to undergo a day case surgical procedure, which can be safely repeated once or twice, to treat their condition with very few side-effects. That could mean a significant improvement in their quality of life.

"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."

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In the UK, more than 37,000 men are diagnosed with the disease each year, and around 10,000 die from it.

Owen Sharp, chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "We welcome the development of any prostate treatment which limits the possibility of damaging side effects such as incontinence and impotence. These early results certainly indicate that focal HFIU has the potential to achieve this in the future."

Professor Gillies McKenna, director of the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology, said: "Clinical trials, like this one supported by the Medical Research Council, are a fantastic tool for telling us whether experimental new treatments are likely to be effective in the clinic.

"If these promising results can be confirmed in a randomised controlled trial, focal therapy could soon become a reasonable treatment choice for prostate cancer alongside other proven effective therapies."

The research was funded by the MRC, the Pelican Cancer Foundation and St Peter's Trust.

This article was published on Tue 17 April 2012

Image © Andrey Ushakov -

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