An innovative treatment for early-stage prostate cancer – using light-sensitive drugs and laser therapy to obliterate cancer cells – can safely treat patients without the risks of surgery, says a new study from University College London.
The treatment involves vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP), during which light-sensitive drugs, first injected into the patient’s bloodstream, are activated by a laser to target and destroy cancer cells.
While the therapy may sound futuristic, it has already delivered promising results in clinical trials performed at nearly 50 treatment sites. About half of patients receiving VTP went into total remission, compared to 14 percent of patients in the study’s control group.
“These results are excellent news for men with early localized prostate cancer, offering a treatment that can kill cancer without removing or destroying the prostate,” said lead investigator Mark Emberton of University College London.
Treating early-stage prostate cancer without surgery would save men from difficult lifestyle risks, including incontinence and erectile dysfunction, note the study authors.
About one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 180,00 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually.
The researchers note that radical therapy, such as surgery, can lead to “lifelong erectile problems” and that one in five men who undergo surgery will suffer from incontinence. While some men experienced these problems following VTP, the side effects disappeared within three months and stayed away after two years, according to the study appearing in The Lancet Oncology.
“This is truly a huge leap forward for prostate cancer treatment, which has previously lagged decades behind other solid cancers such as breast cancer,” said Emberton. “In prostate cancer we are still commonly removing or irradiating the whole prostate, so the success of this new tissue-preserving treatment is welcome news indeed.”
The researchers believe that the successful results found among the nearly 50 treatment facilities in 10 different European countries bode well for more widespread use of VTP.
“The fact that the treatment was performed so successfully by non-specialist centers in various health systems is really remarkable,” said Emberton. “New procedures are generally associated with a learning curve, but the lack of complications in the trial suggests that the treatment protocol is safe, efficient and relatively easy to scale up.”
While VTP was developed specifically for prostate cancer, the researchers note that “it should be translatable to other solid cancers, including breast and liver cancer.”
One of the study participants, a man in his 60s who had been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, decided to take part in the clinical trial – and he reported positive results.
“The treatment I received on the trial changed my life,” said the man. “I’m now cancer-free with no side-effects and don’t have to worry about needing surgery in future.”
He added: “I’ve met other men who had surgery – they had to stay in hospital for days whereas I could go home the next day, and one suffered from terrible incontinence which he found very distressing. I had some minor side-effects for a few weeks after the operation, but I’m back to normal now.”
The new therapy is currently under review, but the researchers hope it’s not long before VTP will be widely available.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.