Doctors use radioactive 'pellets' to treat prostate cancer

Doctors in Southampton are treating prostate cancer with radiotherapy from within the body – by implanting patients with radioactive ‘pellets’.

The revolutionary technology, part of a treatment course known as high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, involves using a computer-controlled machine called a microselectron to place a capsule directly into the prostate gland for a few minutes at a time.

Once in position, the implant gives off radiation to cancerous cells and, as the device is contained within the prostate, doctors are able to increase the dose without affecting the bladder and rectum.

With conventional radiotherapy alone, which uses manually-operated x-rays to target the area of the tumour rather than just the cancer, doctors have to limit doses to protect surrounding healthy tissue.

Patients have one treatment as a day case followed by 15 external beam radiotherapy treatments within four weeks – compared with 37 sessions over eight weeks with the standard form – and are able to return to normal activity within a few days.

Dr Catherine Heath, a consultant clinical oncologist who has pioneered the treatment at Southampton General Hospital, said: “This is a major step forward in the treatment of prostate cancer as the innovative technology allows us to take radiotherapy inside the body and get a much higher dose of radiation to the prostate gland than is possible with any other form of the treatment.

“In addition, there is growing evidence that HDR brachytherapy, combined with external beam radiotherapy, results in higher cure rates for men with prostate cancer and I am delighted we are at the forefront of its introduction.”

Every year around 36,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer and it accounts for 25% of all newly diagnosed cases of the disease.

Brachytherapy is suitable for men whose cancer has not spread outside the prostate gland to other parts of the body and is available to both NHS and private patients at Southampton General Hospital.

Posted on Friday 22 February 2013