Sound waves used to treat prostate cancer

06:00 AEST Wed Apr 18 2012
New treatment has fewer side effects than surgery and radiation, say researchers (Thinkstock)
New treatment has fewer side effects than surgery and radiation, say researchers (Thinkstock)

A new prostate cancer treatment using high frequency sound waves may be a viable alternative to surgery and radiotherapy with less chance of incontinence or impotence, researchers say.

A clinical trial funded by Britain's Medical Research Council examined the efficacy of a new treatment known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), that can target areas just a few millimetres in size.

"The results ... show that 12 months after treatment, none of the 41 men in the trial had incontinence of urine and just one in 10 suffered from poor erections - both common side effects of conventional treatment," said a statement.

"The majority of men (95 per cent) were also cancer-free after a year."

The findings were published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Treatment involves radiotherapy or removing the prostate surgically - both methods that can damage surrounding healthy tissue, in some cases leading to incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

HIFU targets a small area affected by cancer - the sound waves causing the tissue to vibrate and heat up, killing the cancer cells.

The procedure is done under general anaesthetic and most patients are back home within 24 hours, said the statement.

"Our results are very encouraging," said Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study.

"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."

There will be a larger trial to examine whether the new therapy, already in use in hospitals for several years, was as effective as the standard treatment.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. More than 37,000 men are diagnosed with it in the UK each year.

Men can live with the disease for years without it getting worse, and many have to weigh whether they want to risk the side effects of treatment.

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