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Prostate cancer trial offers hope for faster treatment

The i logo The i 10/08/2018 Paul Gallagher
a man sitting in a chair © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd A radical new radiotherapy trial could significantly cut the number of visits for men with prostate cancer, researchers said after promising early results showed radical improvements.

Treatment may be delivered in just five bouts compared to the usual 37, researchers from Queen's University Belfast said. The ongoing trial, which is still open to male patients, is the first of its kind in the UK and delivered large doses per treatment concentrated on the tumour.

Patients in the study had SpaceOar, a minimally invasive hydrogel technology, inserted prior to radiotherapy treatment. In previous studies, SpaceOar has been shown to significantly decrease unwanted side effects.

The "spacer" resulted in clinically and statistically significant reduction in rectal doses for all of the six patients who took part. The preliminary results from the first patients treated in the trial were recently published in the British Journal of Radiology.

Dr Ciaran Fairmichael, clinical research fellow at Queen's University who is co-leading the trial, said: "One of the complications from using radiotherapy is the potential damage that can be inflicted on neighbouring tissues. In this trial, we are evaluating the performance of the SpaceOar hydrogel which is inserted between the prostate gland and the rectum of the patient.

a close up of an animal underwear © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd "This creates a greater distance between the prostate tumour and other tissues, which allows us to concentrate the radiotherapy dosage provided to the tumour and thus reducing the chance of radiation harming other tissues close to the tumour such as the bowel."

The gel creates a greater distance between the prostate tumour and other tissues.

Using the new hydrogel allows clinicians to treat the prostate with a higher dose of radiation, potentially without increasing the risk of side-effects, including impotence, bowel and bladder problems.

Gordon Robinson, 70, one of those who featured in the trial, said: "Taking part in this trial meant I was offered a high-dose five treatment course instead of enduring two months of treatment. The treatment was really successful in getting rid of my tumour.

© Provided by Getty "I knew about the side effects of treatment, and they really frightened me, but this trial meant I had very little discomfort or complications and can return to normal life, for that I am very grateful.

"If it wasn't for this research, I simply would not be here. My family and I are so thankful to the doctors who have helped us. This treatment has allowed me to live my life again."

Caution

However, the very small number of participants in the study meant experts urged caution in suggesting the trial would result in a significant breakthrough for treatment.

Simon Grieveson, deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, told i: “One of the biggest challenges for men receiving radiotherapy is the exhausting impact of travelling to and from hospital for regular treatment over a number of weeks.

Related: 30 Worst Men’s Health Myths That Won’t Die (Provided by Best Life)

“We already know from previous research that higher dose radiotherapy over 20 sessions is just as effective as traditional lower dose radiotherapy over 37 sessions and this trial is looking to reduce those visits even further. However, by increasing the dosage, the risk of potential side effects increases and so this study is also looking at a possible way to minimise these effects.

“While these early findings look promising, we need to see the final results of this trial before we can draw any conclusions.”

How common is prostate cancer?

It is the most common cancer in men in the UK. It usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs for many years. Earlier this year, figures showed the number of men dying from prostate cancer overtook female deaths from breast cancer for the first time in the UK. In 2015 there were 11,819 deaths from prostate cancer compared with 11,442 from breast cancer.

© Provided by Getty What are the treatment options?

Some cases of prostate cancer can be cured if treated in the early stages. Treatments include surgically removing the prostate or radiotherapy – either on its own or alongside hormone therapy.

What are the side effects?

All treatment options carry the risk of significant side effects, including erectile dysfunction and urinary symptoms, such as needing to use the toilet more urgently or more often. For this reason, some men choose to delay treatment until there's a risk the cancer might spread.

Are there any newer treatments available?

High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and cryotherapy aim to reduce the above side effects. Some hospitals may offer them as an alternative to surgery, radiotherapy or hormone therapy. However, the long-term effectiveness of these treatments is not known yet. The first private centre offering proton therapy opened in Wales this year but the treatment is not available on the NHS.

Related: 30 Ways To Cancer-Proof Your Life (Provided by Prevention)

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