It’s always good news when researchers discover a noninvasive treatment against cancer that’s more effective than surgery or radiotherapy. The new, noninvasive technique for prostate cancer focuses sound waves on the tumor area, heating the cancer cells until they are destroyed.
The study, published in the journal Radiology, is the first to combine ultrasound with MRI scans. “The results so far have been very good,” says the University of Toronto’s Dr. Sangeet Ghai in a media release by the Radiological Society of North America. “We treated a smaller area using this device, yet still had very good results. At the same time the patients preserved their erectile and urinary function.”
The high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) targets cancerous cells using a device guided by an MRI scanner. While under general anesthesia, a probe is placed in the patient’s bowel. Once that’s done, the machine delivers the sound waves to the targeted area without the need for needles, or cuts to the skin. The whole procedure takes about four hours.
Cancerous cells are killed with heat – which must hit 140F (60C) to work – leaving healthy tissue alone. Dr Ghai said the MRI uses “thermal feedback” to give instant readings of the temperature reached during treatment.
“By combining the high-intensity focused ultrasound device with MRI, we can target our treatment to the exact location, because we’re able to pinpoint precisely where the tumour is.” In addition, the MRI can help detect if any blood vessels remain in the targeted area. This would indicate that the cancer has not been completely eradicated. “If the temperature was not what I wanted to get, I can reheat that area so that chances for successful treatment increase.”
The noninvasive technique was done on 44 prostate cancer patients. None of the patients experienced any adverse reactions and, more importantly, biopsies on 41 men (93%) came back completely disease-free five months later.
Ghai’s research is currently awaiting approval from the FDA and Health Canada. The new method offers a safe alternative for a significant number of patients who want to protect their quality of life and whose cancer has not spread. Ghai estimates of all those who undergo surgery or radiotherapy, around 20 to 30 percent would be eligible for focused sound treatments.
Standard Prostate Cancer Treatments
Standard treatments for prostate cancer are invasive and include removing the gland or blasting the entire prostate with radiation. These can damage surrounding tissues like the nerves, muscles, urine passage, bladder and rectum. They also come with a risk of long-term urinary problems and erectile dysfunction.
About 1 man in 8 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer.