A new form of radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer is being used by doctors in Southampton, UK.

Implanting radioactive pellets in prostate cancer patients which specifically target and eradicate the cancerous cells at the tumor site has proved to be very effective treatment.

There are close to 36,000 new cases of prostate cancer every year in the UK – accounting for nearly a quarter of all newly diagnosed cancer cases. Cancer Research UK estimates that 1 in 7 boys born in 2015 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at least once in their life compared to only 1 in 20 born in 1990 – this is likely due to the increased use of the PSA test and because men are living longer than before.

The treatment is known as high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy. A computer-controlled machine, called a microselectron, implants a capsule in the prostate gland which gives off radiation that damages and destroys cancerous cells.

Radiation from HDR brachytherapy is confined to the site of the tumor in the prostate area and does not damage the bladder or the rectum. This is unlike conventional radiotherapy – manually operated x-rays – which targets the whole area of the tumor instead of solely the cancer, potentially damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

The treatment involves a day case and then fifteen additional external beam radiotherapy treatments within four weeks, as opposed to the conventional form which involves 37 sessions over an eight week period.

Patients were able to return to normal activity within a few days of receiving the full course of HDR brachytherapy treatment.

One of the leaders of the research, Dr Catherine Heath, a consultant clinical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital, said:

“This is a major step forward in the treatment of prostate cancer as the innovative technology allows us to take radiotherapy inside the body and get a much higher dose of radiation to the prostate gland than is possible with any other form of the treatment.

“In addition, there is growing evidence that HDR brachytherapy, combined with external beam radiotherapy, results in higher cure rates for men with prostate cancer and I am delighted we are at the forefront of its introduction.”

This new form of treatment is suitable and available for men whose cancer has not spread outside their prostate, say the doctors at Southampton General Hospital.

Previous research by oncologists at the Kimmel Cancer Center, Jefferson, revealed that high-risk prostate cancer patients who receive brachytherapy, or a combination of it with external bream radiation therapy (EBRT), had considerably lower mortality rates than those who received EBRT alone.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist