5-day ‘turbo-charged’ radiotherapy could ‘cure’ high risk prostate cancer faster than usual 20 days


Men at high risk for prostate cancer could have their disease cured with just five days of “turbo-charged” radiotherapy, instead of the typical 20, research has shown.

Developed at Queen’s University Belfast, the radical method has proven to be as safe and effective as the standard approach – and could also free up busy cancer clinics to see more patients.

Radiotherapy involves destroying the prostate with powerful energy waves that destroy tumor cells. It can also be an alternative to surgical removal of the gland.

It is normally given in a number of doses over a period of weeks. However, a newer method called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy uses more powerful beams.

These are delivered from different angles, irradiating the tumor site with pinpoint accuracy.

5 day turbo charged radiotherapy could cure high risk prostate cancer faster

Men with high-risk prostate cancer could have their disease cured with just five days of 'turbo-charged' radiotherapy, instead of the typical 20, study has shown (file photo)

Men with high-risk prostate cancer could have their disease cured with just five days of 'turbo-charged' radiotherapy, instead of the typical 20, study has shown (file photo)

Men with high-risk prostate cancer could have their disease cured with just five days of ‘turbo-charged’ radiotherapy, instead of the typical 20, study has shown (file photo)

Due to the precise nature of the treatment, there is not as much damage to surrounding healthy tissue as with the standard approach. And since higher doses are given, only five days of treatment are needed. The method has previously been used to treat lower-risk small prostate tumors, but this study was the first to show that it worked well in men with higher-risk, more advanced cancer.

One of the concerns with strong radiotherapy to the prostate, which is located below the bladder, is that collateral damage to the bowel and rectum may occur. Radiation can damage the nerves and muscles that control when men go to the toilet, causing incontinence.

To reduce this, the 30 men in the trial had a gel called SpaceOAR injected behind the prostate prior to treatment. It gently moves the rectum away from the prostate and creates a barrier, reducing radiation reaching surrounding tissue by 70 percent. During the trial, none of the men had significant bowel problems after the procedure.

Queen’s University Professor Suneil Jain said: ‘Men appreciate having their treatment completed so quickly. Twenty days of radiotherapy can be daunting for some.

‘Prostate cancer appears to be very sensitive to these high doses. If we can reduce the number of sessions per patient by 75 percent, that will also be a big win for radiotherapy departments.’

Professor Suneil Jain (pictured), from Queen's University, said: 'Men appreciate having their treatment completed so quickly. Twenty days of radiotherapy can be daunting for some'

Professor Suneil Jain (pictured), from Queen's University, said: 'Men appreciate having their treatment completed so quickly. Twenty days of radiotherapy can be daunting for some'

Professor Suneil Jain (pictured), from Queen’s University, said: ‘Men appreciate having their treatment completed so quickly. Twenty days of radiotherapy can be daunting for some’

Every year around 50,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK. Many have no active treatment and are regularly monitored. However, if the patient is considered high risk, radiotherapy, given with surgery, hormone medication, or on its own, is effective.

If the cancer has not spread, nine in ten survive at least five years with these treatments. Of the men whose cancer has spread, 65 percent survive at least five years after radiotherapy and hormone medication.

The patients in the study started treatment between 2016 and 2018, so survival data are not yet available. However, Prof Jain said: ‘We expect to see similar results with this treatment protocol.’

A participant in the trial, John Creswell, 69, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018. The father-of-three from Coleraine said: ‘I have a few friends who have had prostate cancer and have undergone hormone and radiotherapy treatments. They’ve all had negative side effects, so I was a little worried.”

But Mr Creswell, a retired firefighter, said he had no major problems. “There was no blood in my urine or bowels. Also, the convenience of only one week of hospital visits for treatment was more user-friendly. My cancer was treated before it spread.”

Prostate Cancer UK research manager, Hayley Luxton, said: ‘We now know that this breakthrough technique is safe and opens the door to more accurate treatments with higher doses and fewer hospital visits for men with prostate cancer.’