Two weeks of radiotherapy banished Pat Somers’s prostate cancer, in a clinical trial that promises to revolutionise treatment of the disease.
Somers is one of a small number of Irish participants in an international trial designed to test whether radiotherapy can be administered in a small number of high-dose sessions rather than continuing for months.
The results of the trial, published on Monday, show the number of radiotherapy doses can be cut by three-quarters without any adverse outcomes.
As a fit man with no major health issues, Somers admits he was “taken aback” by his prostate cancer diagnosis.
“I’m careful about my health and I get regular check-ups. I go walking every day, sometimes twice, in our lovely national park in Killarney,” the Kerry ex-garda says.
However, one of these regular tests picked up raised PSA levels and a subsequent biopsy confirmed he had prostate cancer.
“I got all sorts of advice from people, about radiotherapy and surgery and so on. But I opted to volunteer for the trial when it was offered to me at the Bon Secours in Cork, as I had been highly impressed by the team there.”
Traditionally, Somers would have to undergo up to 40 treatment sessions, on each occasion driving from Killarney to Cork to spend a few minutes receiving radiotherapy.
Under the trial, he received 25-30 minutes of therapy in just five sessions; three one week and two in the following week. “The thought of having to drive up and down 40 times just didn’t appeal to me, though it wasn’t the clincher for my decision.”
Within three months of his diagnosis, the then 72-year-old was receiving treatment. Key to the new approach was the prior implantation into the prostate of three “fiducial markers”, used to ensure its correct position so the therapy can be as accurately focused as possible.
Somers says he “sailed through” the treatment, with no side effects apart from a “slight burning sensation”.
His PSA levels dropped to near zero and the number of night-time visits to the bathroom he needs to make has greatly reduced.
The international study found 96 per cent of men who received five doses of multi-beam radiotherapy in the trial were cancer-free after five years, compared with 95 per cent who received at least 20 doses of standard radiotherapy.
Given the success of the trial, the new, shortened treatment regime is likely to be offered more widely, according to Paul Kelly, radiation oncologist at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork.
The trial, led in Ireland by Prof John Armstrong in St Luke’s Hospital and Dr Alina Mihai in Beacon Hospital, involved patients with medium-risk prostate cancer but future research will look at adopting a similar approach with higher risk patients.
Kelly recommends that anyone who is sent for further tests on foot of an elevated PSA reading should first get an MRI before proceeding to a biopsy, as a scan can help doctors target the problem area of the prostate.