Breakthrough in prostate cancer treatment zaps tumors without side effects
A new treatment for early stage prostate cancer has been described as “truly transformative” after successful trials at 47 hospitals across Europe.
The technique uses lasers and a drug made from deep sea bacteria to eliminate tumours, but without causing the severe side effects produced by traditional treatments.
Trials on 413 men, published in The Lancet Oncology, showed that nearly half of them had no trace of cancer remaining.
Traditional prostate cancer treatments using surgery or radiotherapy often result in the patient suffering incontinence and lifelong impotence.
Up to 20 percent of patients struggle to control their bladders after conventional treatments, while as many as nine-in-10 develop erectile problems.
Many men with an early stage tumour consequently adopt a “wait and see” approach and have treatment only if it starts growing aggressively.
Professor Mark Emberton, who tested the technique at University College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today show that the new approach “changes everything.”
It uses a drug, made from bacteria that live in the almost total darkness of the seafloor and which become toxic only when exposed to light.
Ten fibre optic lasers are inserted through the perineum (the area between the anus and the testes) and into the cancerous prostate gland.
The laser then activates the light-sensitive drug to kill the cancer, leaving the healthy prostate behind.
Following this treatment, 49 percent of patients went into complete remission.
During the follow-up, only six percent of patients needed to have the prostate removed, compared with 30 percent who did not have the new therapy.
The impact on sexual activity and urination lasted no more than three months, moreover, and none of the men had significant side effects after two years.
“Traditionally the decision to have treatment has always been a balance of benefits and harms,” Professor Emberton said. “The harms have always been the side effects – urinary incontinence and sexual difficulties in the majority of men. To have a new treatment now that we can administer, to men who are eligible, that is virtually free of those side effects, is truly transformative.”
The technology was developed in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science, alongside Steba Biotech.