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UCL study: sound waves treat prostate cancer with fewer side effects

2 July 2009


British Journal of Cancer logo nature.com/bjc/journal/v101/n1/full/6605116a.html" target="_self">Research study findings
  • UCL Division of Surgical and Interventional Science
  • 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 UCL-led study published in the British Journal of Cancer today.

    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 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 and 92 per cent did not have any recurrence of prostate cancer. Although this was not a comparative study, it would be expected that traditional treatments for early prostate cancer of surgery or radiotherapy would show a similar percentage of men showing no recurrence of their prostate cancer one year on.

    Less than one percent - one man of the 159 followed up - had incontinence. And 30-40 per cent had impotence. None had any bowel problems.

    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.

    The trial took place at two centres in London: UCLH and the privately owned Princess Grace Hospital.

    Dr Hashim Ahmed from UCL's Division of Surgical and Interventional Science ran the trial. He 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  small accurately targeted amounts of tissue to a temperature of 80-90 degrees Celsius. 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. 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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