Prostate cancer trial could see men cured within a week

·3 min read
Prostate cancer cells - Science Photo Library RF/Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library RF
Prostate cancer cells - Science Photo Library RF/Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library RF

Men could be cured of prostate cancer in a week using larger doses of precision radiotherapy, scientists believe.

A trial will begin this week at the London Royal Marsden Hospital to find out whether it is safe to radically speed up treatment.

Currently, men who develop prostate cancer are usually treated in 20 sessions over a month.

But scientists want to cut the therapy to just two high-dose treatments, which could be carried out over the space of one or two weeks.

The trial is the first in the world to compare the long-term outcomes for people using this kind of concentrated therapy, compared to the standard treatment.

Good odds if disease caught early

Around 48,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and if caught early enough there is an 80 per cent chance of survival with radiotherapy.

Dr Alison Tree, a consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR), told The Sunday Times, that in future, men may be able to "come in, get cured, get on with their normal lives and forget about their cancer completely".

Last month, the same team published the results of a trial showing that the number of sessions can be safely cut to five, with only minimal side effects.

The PACE-B trial found that, two years after treatment, nearly 90 per cent of all patients on the trial experienced only minor side effects, while 99 per cent were free of severe side effects, suggesting that shortened treatment can be given without the risk of long-term damage from toxicity.

Chief Investigator Dr Nicholas van As, medical director and consultant clinical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “At The Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research, we are focused on developing smarter, better and kinder treatments for patients across the UK and internationally.

“Patients could be spared numerous visits to hospital, allowing them to get back to their lives sooner.”

Specialists have been able to cut the number of sessions because radiotherapy has become more precise in recent years, meaning there is less risk of healthy tissue being damaged, so higher doses can be given.

Scientists also think that giving higher doses in one go may actually be more effective at fighting cancer. Experts have found that blitizing tumours with large doses may be better at quickly stopping the disease than using several lower doses.

Dr Tree added: “When I started training 15 years ago we were doing very basic radiotherapy, where you'd treat big, square areas of the body.

“We are so much more precise that we don't hit much of the healthy tissue now.”

However some charities warned that although a shorter course of treatment may be appealing, the more precision equipment was only available in a handful of clinics, meaning men may need to travel long distances.

One in six men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives and the condition is far more common in older men, particularly those aged between 75 and 79.

It is also more likely in people who are overweight and those with a family history of the condition.

Cutting the number of treatments needed will also help the NHS save money and free up appointments. There is currently a huge backlog for treatments that were not carried out during the height of the Covid pandemic.