Small study of focal therapy by UCL shows dramatic fall in rates of incontinence and erectile problems after treatment
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and more than 37,000 are diagnosed in the UK each year. Photograph: RayArt Graphics / Alamy/Alamy
A new prostate cancer treatment could provide more effective for patients and have fewer side-effects, according to a report.
The study was the first to use an experimental treatment known as HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound) to treat areas of cancer that are only a few millimetres in size, a technique known as focal therapy.
Focal therapy is similar in principle to the "lumpectomy" operation commonly used as an alternative to a full mastectomy in breast cancer.
One year after treatment, none of the 41 men in the trial had incontinence, and just one in 10 suffered from poor erections – both common side-effects of conventional treatment. The majority (95%) were also cancer-free after a year.
Researchers concluded that "focal therapy of individual prostate cancer lesions, whether multifocal or unifocal, leads to a low rate of genito-urinary side-effects and an encouraging rate of early absence of clinically significant prostate cancer".
The results of the phase one study, funded by the Medical Research Council and conducted by researchers at University College London, are published in the journal Lancet Oncology.
Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and UCL, 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 each year and the condition leads to approximately 10,000 deaths.
Standard therapy involves treating the whole prostate, either with radiotherapy or surgery to remove it completely.
Both methods cause damage to surrounding healthy tissue and can lead to side-effects such as urinary incontinence requiring one or more pads a day (5-25%), erections insufficient for sexual intercourse (30-70%) and rectal problems, such as diarrhoea, bleeding and pain (5-10%).