Cartoonist G.J. Caulkins may have been channeling a musician such as Eric Clapton or Albert King when he captioned an image of a doctor with a guitar telling a startled patient, "At our clinic we take a more 'radical' approach to ultrasound treatment."
But he wasn't far off the mark — at least when it comes to the benefits of using high-intensity, focused ultrasound (HIFU) to destroy prostate cancer tumors that have not spread.
A new study in the U.K. tracked 625 men who received the beam-blasting therapy instead of more traditional treatments such as radiation and/or surgery. Reporting results in the journal European Urology, the researchers found:
• After five years, the cancer survival rate from HIFU was 100 percent. The cancer survival rate from surgery and radiotherapy also is 100 percent at five years.
• Approximately 1 in 10 men receiving HIFU needed further treatment; also the same as with other treatments.
The difference? The risk of side effects from the ultrasound therapy — urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction — are 2 and 15 percent, respectively. Other treatment options are associated with incontinence for 5 to 30 percent of patients and erectile dysfunction for 30 to 60 percent.
The Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet approved the use of HIFU for prostate cancer treatment (it is allowed for prostate tissue ablation, meaning it can target benign prostate enlargement) — but the FDA is considering it.
However, some doctors caution that approval will lead to overuse, when most early-stage prostate cancer calls for active surveillance, not treatment. So stay tuned.
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