Scientists have developed a novel therapy to treat men who have the early stages of prostate cancer, radically improving their chances of completely eliminating the disease without the need to remove the gland. With successful trials already completed, and the results published in The Lancet, it is hoped that the treatment could be offered to patients within just a few years.
The new technique utilizes a bacteria usually found in the depths of the ocean. Found in near total darkness on the seafloor, the bacteria converts light into energy with amazing efficiency. Researchers used this ability to create a drug that releases free radicals when exposed to light, which is then injected into the blood stream, eventually finding its way to the tumor in the prostate.
They then insert 10 fiber optic lasers into the cancerous part of the gland. When the lasers are turned on, it activates the drug that then only kills the cancerous cells in the prostate, leaving the healthy cells intact. With only the tumor being destroyed, leaving the rest intact, the outcome for patients in phase three trials have been far better than the standard treatment.
Currently, when a patient is diagnosed with early localized prostate cancer, they are placed under surveillance, but doctors are usually reluctant to act further until it becomes more severe. This is because the only treatment up until now has been radical therapy that involves removing or irradiating the whole prostate. This leads to severe long-term side effects, such as erectile dysfunction and even incontinence, hence the reluctance to perform the treatment.
But this latest development, using the newly developed "vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy", means that all men who have been diagnosed with early stages of the disease can be treated.
Just under half (49 percent) of the men in the trial went into complete remission, with the tumor completely destroyed. After the trial, only 6 percent of the men who had the new treatment needed to go on to have their prostate removed, compared to 30 percent who had not received it.
“This is truly a huge leap forward for prostate cancer treatment, which has previously lagged decades behind other solid cancers such as breast cancer,” explained University College London’s Professor Mark Emberton, who led the study. “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.”
Now the researchers have to wait, as the treatment is currently being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency. Only then can it be approved and offered to patients with early stage prostate cancer.