The prostate therapy that can 'halve side effects'
London - Thousands of men with prostate cancer are set to benefit from a new radiotherapy technique that halves the side effects.
A new way of "curving" the radiation beam in order to target just the tumour is expected to be adopted by hospitals within months.
The treatment is highly effective, particularly if it is given at an early stage, when it permanently eradicates 60 per cent of tumours.
But because the therapy involves bathing the whole pelvis with radiation it can damage healthy tissue and other organs.
This can cause side effects – sometimes spelling an end to a man’s sex life – with impotence, incontinence and bowel problems frequently reported.
The new technique involves ‘intensity modulated’ radiotherapy – in which the radiation is shaped around other parts of the body. The radiologists also inject the prostate with tiny pieces of gold – which show up on scans – to make sure they hit the tumour.
Experts at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have published two papers detailing how to adjust the beams – and how much power is needed to remove the cancer while avoiding side effects.
The studies, funded by Cancer Research UK, are expected to change the way radiotherapy is conducted across the UK. The first, published in the journal Clinical & Translational Radiation Oncology, tracked 276 men who were subjected to different doses of radiation for up to four years.
Project leader Professor David Dearnaley said it showed lower doses than previously thought could cause erectile dysfunction.
The second study, involving 1 150 men and published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, found similar results in relation to bowel problems. But Professor Dearnaley estimates the new protocols could cut side effects by half.
With about 80 percent of prostate cancer survivors left with poor sexual function, the new treatment could "make a substantial difference’, said Professor Dearnaley. ‘I would estimate that we can halve side effects – certainly something of that order.’
As the trials were held in more than 40 hospitals and involved most major radiotherapy centres in the UK, Professor Dearnaley expects the new method to be adopted quickly. ‘It will be weeks or months, not years,’ he said.
It is not the first time Professor Dearnaley has transformed prostate cancer treatments. Four years ago he showed prostate radiotherapy could be done just as effectively in 20 sessions as the traditional 37 – sparing sufferers from extra gruelling hospital visits.
Martin Ledwick of Cancer Research UK said: ‘Precise, modern radiotherapy techniques may be used to reduce the unpleasant side effects that some experience. Radiotherapy is a cornerstone of cancer treatment and we’re committed to making it kinder and more effective.’Daily Mail