High-tech radiotherapy tackles prostate cancer

Written by Anthony Strzalek

A high-tech form of radiotherapy can dramatically improve outcomes for patients with prostate cancer, long-term clinical trial results have shown.

As many as 71 per cent of tested patients with prostate cancer were alive and disease-free five years after treatment with intensity-modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT.

The trial, led by a team at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden, was one of the first ever studies of IMRT, which is designed to be much more precise than traditional forms of radiotherapy.

Researchers also found that IMRT – which is highly focused on the tumour and spares nearby normal tissues – was a safe treatment. Only between eight and 16 per cent of patients experienced bowel or bladder toxicity.

When the trial began, many of these patients were considered incurable and giving radiotherapy to this region of the body had been considered too risky for fear that the side-effects to the bowel would be too severe.

The trial found that IMRT could safely be given to the pelvis to help stop the spread of the disease. After an average of 8.5 years of follow-up, overall survival was 87 per cent and the level of side-effects was “manageable”.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, 447 male patients with prostate cancer took part in the study to test whether this new method of radiotherapy could safely treat the lymph nodes of the pelvis, a common site for prostate cancer to spread.

Study leader, professor David Dearnaley, 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. These long-term results demonstrate that using IMRT to target the pelvic lymph nodes is safe and effective for men with prostate cancer.

“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.”