Researchers have developed a new treatment for advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bones, which delivers a “high-energy” burst of radiation to cancer cells, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The phase III trial, conducted by researchers at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research in the UK, studied 921 men suffering from prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is a cancer of the prostate gland found in the male reproductive system. It is more common in men aged over 45.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men, with 1 in 6 men likely to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.

According to the scientists, around 90% of patients suffering from metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer have bone metastases, which can lead to disability, decreased quality of life and even death.

The radiation injection, called radium-223, works by “homing in” on tumors in the bone, delivering radiation over a short range. Because of this, the injection causes minimal damage to the non-cancerous tissue, the researchers report. They add that because radium has similar chemical properties to calcium, it is absorbed by the bone.

Successful results

Results of the trial showed that men who received the radiation injection lived for an average of 14.9 months compared with the men who received an inert placebo injection, who lived an average of 11.3 months.

Men with late-stage prostate cancer who were given the radioactive injection had their life extended by an average of 15 weeks.

In fact, the researchers say that this trial was so successful, it was stopped earlier than planned in order to give the radiation treatment to the men who were previously given the placebo injection.

Dr Chris Parker, consultant clinical oncologist at The Royal Marsden, says:

We’re excited by the prospects for this ingenious new treatment, which takes advantage of the properties of tumors growing within bone to home in and deliver a highly targeted dose of radiation.

We were delighted to show that radium 223 allowed many men in our trial to live to see a few extra, precious months. Not only did they live longer, these men had a much better quality of life.”

“Paving the way” to extend lives

According to the researchers, radium-223 is an important treatment for men suffering from prostate cancer as it can be used alongside other treatments, as well as on its own for patients who are unable to use other treatments for the cancer.

Dr. Parker says:

“The study paves the way for radium 223 to be used to extend the lives of more men with advanced prostate cancer.”