Innovations in radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer

Posted 21st March 2014

Patients see the benefits of a trial which reduces side effects and improves the outcome of treatment for prostate cancer patients.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is one of the first two hospitals in the UK to offer dose painting radiotherapy to patients. The technique is suitable for patients with a higher density of cancer cells, which have not spread from the prostate gland. This applies to 30- 50 per cent of all prostate cancer cases.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK amongst men, accounting for more than a quarter of all cancer cases, with more than 40,000 cases being diagnosed every year.*

While standard radiotherapy delivers an equal amount of radiation across the whole prostate, in dose painting radiotherapy, MRI scans or PET CT scans first identify areas of the prostate where the cancer load is heaviest. A highly targeted extra radiation is then delivered to these areas.

John Turner, aged 68 from Wallasey, was one of the initial patients to have this treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. He was offered dose-painting radiotherapy as a result of the severity of his cancer. After receiving 20 doses of the radiotherapy in February 2012, his cancer has not made a reappearance and he has not required any further treatment.

John commented: “When they diagnosed me they said it was at a fairly serious stage, and I said ‘well you best get curing me then!’, and they did. My consultant, Dr. Isabel Syndikus, recommended that I try the high dose radiotherapy treatment. I was able to receive the treatment on my doorstep as I live near The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, but there were other patients from all across the UK who came to get the treatment there.

“I received 20 doses of the radiotherapy throughout February and March daily, with a break at the weekends. It was all over so quickly and painlessly. I also didn’t suffer any side effects as a consequence of the treatment.”

Dr. Isabel Syndikus, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer commented: “If we increase the standard radiation dose, we improve the outcome for high risk patients, but we also increase the risk of side effects and damage to healthy cells in organs near the prostate such as the bladder and the bowels. High dose painting radiotherapy is designed to reduce side effects significantly while still improving the local control of the cancer, making the treatment shorter and with fewer complications.

“We have been offering this treatment in a pilot programme for three years, and a lot of our patients have done really well on it. We are now in a position to evaluate the best way to deliver this therapy in the context of a clinical trial. Research is currently being carried out in the UK at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, The Royal Marsden in London and in the Netherlands. Although it is too early to have definitive results, the indications thus far are highly encouraging. ** We are currently recruiting more patients for this trial. At The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre alone, as many as 200 patients a year could ultimately benefit.”

This treatment highlights The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s commitment to staying at the forefront of the development of new treatments and techniques to benefit patients across the region. In addition to dose painting radiotherapy, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is also leading the way in a number of treatments which are suitable for prostate cancers.

The Merseyside-based cancer centre has also been using a Brachytherapy Boost treatment which is suitable for high risk prostatectomy cancer patients. This is an alternative treatment option which is similar to the dose painting program. The Brachytherapy Boost treatment has recently had its first annual review and the promising results mean it can now be taken to the second phase, making the process readily available for an increasing number of patients.

*Cancer Research UK 2011:

**Nursing Times, 27 Feb, 2014: ‘Escalated radiotherapy benefits prostate cancer sufferers’