“Soundwaves could help 95% of prostate cancer patients … without affecting sex life,” . Its story comes from a small study that looked at an experimental treatment using high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to target areas of prostate cancer in men where the disease had not spread. Standard treatments for prostate cancer often lead to undesirable side effects, in particular erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. Researchers found that a year after this experimental treatment, 89% of men still had erectile function and all were still continent. Ninety-five per cent of the men showed no evidence of disease on an MRI scan.
The results of this small study look promising. Men with early (localised) prostate cancer that has not spread can often live for years without developing life-threatening symptoms, and are often faced with a difficult decision about whether or not to have conventional treatment, which can have side effects. A treatment that can target areas of cancer without damaging healthy tissue might enable more men to have treatment for prostate cancer at an early stage.
HIFU is only useful to treat a single tumour or part of a large tumour. It can’t be used to treat tumours that are more widespread in the body. This means that HIFU is not suitable for people with cancer that has spread to more than one place in their body. Because the prostate is positioned deep within the pelvis, you have HIFU for prostate cancer by putting an ultrasound probe (transrectal probe) into your back passage (rectum). From that position, the ultrasound can direct beams more accurately at the prostate. Results from trials so far show that HIFU may be as successful in treating prostate cancer as treatment with radical prostatectomy or radiotherapy. But we also have to be sure that the long term results will be as good as surgery or radiotherapy. The treatment hasn’t been around long enough for us to know that yet.
What are the advantages?
- HIFU treatment is not as invasive as radical prostatectomy, brachytherapy or cryotherapy.
- It requires a short hospital stay of less than 24 hours.
- The treatment can be repeated if necessary.