Sound-wave therapy for prostate cancer may reduce side effects

In collaboration with the Press Association

An experimental sound-wave treatment for certain types of prostate cancer may have fewer side effects than current therapies, according to new UK research.

High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) can be targeted to tumours just a few millimetres in size, which helps to minimise damage to the surrounding healthy tissues. The sound waves vibrate and heat specific areas of tissue to about 80 degrees, killing the cancer cells within.

Standard prostate cancer treatment targets radiotherapy or surgery at the whole prostate. This can sometimes cause side effects such as urinary incontinence (5 to 25 per cent of patients); erectile dysfunction (30 to 70 per cent); and diarrhoea, bleeding and pain (5 to 10 per cent).

The researchers carried out 'proof of concept' clinical trial at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London.

Led by Dr Hashim Ahmed and published in Lancet Oncology, the study shows that one year after treatment only one in 10 of the 41 men treated with HIFU experienced erection problems, and none experienced incontinence. The research also found that 95 per cent of the patients were cancer-free after 12 months.

Men in the study also had a nine in 10 chance of achieving the optimum 'perfect outcome' of no urine leak, functioning erections and cancer control one year on - known as trifecta status. This contrasts with standard therapies, which leave patients with only a 50 per cent chance of achieving trifecta status at 12 months.

"Our results are very encouraging. 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," said Dr Ahmed.

In the UK, more than 37,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year - making it the most common form of cancer in men - and the disease leads to around 10,000 deaths each year.

Many men diagnosed with prostate cancer face a difficult choice, as the disease can stay dormant for years without impacting on health. They then have a choice of undergoing treatment that may result in uncomfortable and difficult side effects, or leaving it untreated and relying on constant check to measure progression.

Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said: "It's extremely encouraging to see results of this study, which suggests that high frequency ultrasound treatment can be given to a small region of the prostate with very few side effects.

But he also cautioned that a much larger clinical trial is needed to see whether the treatment - which is only suitable for some patients - is as effective as surgery or radiotherapy.

"It will be some time before any results are known," he added.

Copyright Press Association 2012


  • Ahmed, H. et al. (2012). Focal therapy for localised unifocal and multifocal prostate cancer: a prospective development study The Lancet Oncology DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70121-3