In April 2012, British medical journal The Lancet reported that a new ultrasound treatment could help reduce some of the common side effects of prostate cancer.
What's the problem?
Prostate cancer can be treated in most cases. Unfortunately, many of the treatment options – including surgery, radiation and hormone therapy – carry side effects. Though surgery has become less invasive in recent years through the use of robotics, urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction are still prevalent complications. Radiation has side effects include urinary problems, erectile dysfunction and gastrointestinal/bowel complications. Hormone therapy messes with a man's hormones—as intended--but this can cause hot flashes, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, weight gain, fatigue, depression, swelling and tenderness of the breasts, anemia and sexual dysfunction.
What are the new developments?
With all of the potential complications of other prostate cancer treatments, a new form of ultrasound treatment offers an option with fewer side effects. The Lancet study tested 41 patients with the high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and found that it could reduce the risk of impotence and incontinence. Sound waves were pointed at targeted areas within the prostate, heating them to the point where the cancerous cells were essentially boiled.
The results were referred to as "promising."
What does this mean?
HIFU has actually been around for almost two decades, though it has not yet been approved by the FDA. The treatment is available, however, in Bermuda, Germany and Mexico, though patients should be warned that insurance companies rarely cover off-shore services.
According to Dr. Jay Motola, HealthCentral's consulting urologist, HIFU is an outpatient treatment that can last between one and four hours. The key difference between HIFU and more conventional treatments is that it does not damage surrounding tissue.
Is this treatment good for everyone?
"The ideal patient … is one who has cancer that is localized to the prostate, and is very concerned about maintaining normal erective activity," according to Motola. The authors of the study also point that this study was conducted on fewer than 50 men and still requires long-term follow-ups. That said, this could be very promising for the millions of men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.
Though this technology is not "new" necessarily, it is encouraging for another study to reinforce that HIFU could be used without significant side effects. This could also lead to more comprehensive studies that could ultimately increase the chances of approval for more broad use, including in the U.S. and U.K.
Brimelow, Adam. (16 April 2012). New Prostate Cancer Treatment May Reduce Side Effects. BBC New: Health. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17726979.
Motola, Jay. (18 January 2011). High Intensity Focused Ultrasound of the Prostate (HIFU). HealthCentral.com. Retrieved from http://www.healthcentral.com/prostate/c/95/129440/ultrasound-prostate.
Published On: April 18, 2012