Prostate cancer breakthrough to bring ‘massive advantages’ for patients

Radiotherapy treatment sessions can be cut by three-quarters without adverse outcomes, trial finds

The number of doses men need during treatment for prostate cancer can be cut by three-quarters without any adverse outcomes, according to a new trial involving Irish patients.

The results mean patients can be safely given far less radiotherapy, consequently reducing the cost of their treatment and the disruption it causes.

The findings, from an international trial involving almost 900 men with medium-risk prostate cancer, may result in significant savings for health services.

“This will change the face of prostate cancer treatment. It will bring massive advantages for patients, who will spend less time in treatment and need to travel less,” said Paul Kelly, radiation oncologist at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork and co-chair of the genito-urinary cancer trials group within Cancer Trials Ireland.


“There will also be massive savings for the health service, as treatment can be delivered in less than one-quarter of the time needed at present.”

The study found that 96 per cent of men who received five doses of multi-beam radiotherapy were cancer-free after five years, compared with 95 per cent who received at least 20 doses of standard radiotherapy. Side effects, such as needing to urinate more often, were low in both groups.

“Modern stereotactic radiotherapy allows us to home in on the prostate itself, thereby minimising the impact on other organs,” Dr Kelly explained. “As a result, the overwhelming majority of men won’t experience side-effects.”

Traditionally, prostate cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy had this administered over almost 40 sessions, though this was reduced to 20. The trial shows that administering the treatment at a higher dose of five sessions, timetabled over two weeks, results in equally good outcomes.

A small number of Irish patients at St Luke’s Hospital and the Beacon Hospital in Dublin participated in the trial, known as Pace B. A follow-on trial also involved Irish patients in Cork.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. There are about 3,500 new prostate cancer cases in Ireland each year, and over 500 deaths. Risk factors include increasing age, a family history of the disease and height.

The top-line results of the trial will be released at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation and Oncology (Astro) conference in San Diego on Monday.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times