Radiotherapy after surgery slows progress of 'high-risk' prostate cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Radiotherapy is an effective treatment for men with early-stage prostate cancer who are at high risk of their disease coming back after an operation to remove their prostate, according to a French study.

Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of men in the study who received radiotherapy soon after having their prostate removed had no signs of the disease returning after a decade.

This compared with 38 per cent of men who did not have radiotherapy after their surgery.

But research has yet to resolve exactly when after surgery is the best time to give radiotherapy.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Around 40,000 men are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year, and more than 10,500 men die from the disease.

One of the main treatments for the disease is surgery to remove the prostate gland, called a prostatectomy. But the disease is more likely to come back in men whose cancer has begun spread beyond the prostate.

Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said the study added weight to other research suggesting that radiotherapy is effective for many men at greater risk of their prostate cancer coming back after surgery.

"It also suggests that men younger than 70 years who have cancer cells at the edge of their removed tissue are most likely to benefit from radiotherapy."

But Professor Mason also said that the best timing for the treatment is still a matter of debate. "Men in this study were given radiotherapy very soon after surgery, but it may be that doctors can wait for biochemical signs that the cancer is growing again before starting a patient on radiotherapy. This could mean some men who are cured by surgery could be spared unnecessary radiotherapy," he said.

"A Cancer Research UK trial called RADICALS should help to uncover the best time to give radiotherapy, and will also show if giving hormone therapy as well as radiotherapy is more effective," he added.

The French team studied 1,005 men with high-risk prostate cancer over a 10-year period to look at the effectiveness of post-operative radiotherapy carried out within four months of surgery. Men had a substantially improved chance of their disease not progressing if they had been given radiotherapy after having their prostate removed, compared with those who did not.

The research, published in The Lancet, was carried out by researchers from Hospitalier Universitaire A Michallon in Grenoble, France.

Copyright Press Association 2012