A breakthrough in treatment for prostate cancer could cure thousands of men whose disease was thought to be incurable, research suggests.
The Institute of Cancer Research said the findings were a “great leap forward” which could help around 3,000 men a year for whom there would otherwise be little hope.
The pioneering study, with The Royal Marsden, found that the highly targeted form of radiotherapy, which shapes radiation beams to tumors, could stop the disease in its tracks.
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men, with 47,000 diagnoses a year.
Depending on how far the disease has spread, and how aggressive it is, men are offered hormonal treatment, surgery, radiotherapy or a combination of treatments.
But when cancer has spread to the pelvis, conventional treatment becomes too risky, as it can damage the bowel.
The new study found that intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) was able to give a high dose of radiation directly to cancer cells while protecting surrounding healthy tissue, thereby cutting down on side-effects.
In the new study on 447 men, 71 percent of patients with prostate cancer were alive and completely free from disease five years after treatment with IMRT.
When the trial began, many of the patients were considered incurable, researchers said.
And just eight to 16 percent of those in the trial suffered issues with their bladder or bowel.
The trial found that IMRT could safely be given to the pelvis – a common site for prostate cancer cells to spread – to help stop the disease going further.
After an average of 8.5 years of follow-up, 87 percent of men were alive, according to the study, published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.
Since the trial began in 2000, the treatment is increasingly offered to some patients by major cancer centers, but until now the benefits for those thought incurable has not been known.
Study leader David Dearnaley, professor of uro-oncology at the ICR and consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden, said: “Our trial was one of the first of this revolutionary radiotherapy technique, which was pioneered by colleagues here at the ICR and The Royal Marsden.
“This technique has already proven to be a game-changer for men with prostate cancer and the work done here has already been carried forward into later-stage phase II and phase III trials.
“I’m excited to see this treatment become available to every man with prostate cancer who could benefit from it.”
Changes in use of the treatment had meant a “complete revolution” in the way it was delivered, with doses now delivered in just two minutes, in a “giant leap forward” in radiotherapy treatment, he said.
Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, said: “Radiotherapy is often seen as perhaps old-fashioned and crude compared with other cancer treatments – but nothing could be further from the truth.
“Radiotherapy today has been enhanced far beyond recognition since its first use over a century ago and is now a highly precise, incredibly sophisticated treatment.
“It’s great to see this long-term evidence of the degree to which precision radiotherapy has transformed outcomes for men with prostate cancer.”
Dr. Matthew Hobbs, Deputy Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK said the findings were “promising” but called for larger randomised trials to produce definitive answers about the benefits of the treatment and its suitability for different cases.
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