Using Ultrasound to Treat Cancer
Gosh! How time flies! Around four months ago, I took on a new client who needed a writer for several newsletters. While I love to write, this new contract consumes practically all my time, and I often even find myself working during weekends. So my poor blog has been sadly neglected.
I’ve found some time today to squeeze in some exciting news. Well, it’s not news exactly as it was announced in the media in March. Still, for those who may have missed it then, I thought I’d write about it here. Doctors in Singapore have developed a new treatment for prostate cancer which does not require radiation therapy or invasive surgery. This treatment uses, believe it or not, ultrasound waves! These waves converge on the tumor without affecting the surrounding tissue. What this means is that side effects of existing prostate cancer treatments, like impotence and incontinence, are eliminated.
Ultrasonic waves are used to heat the tumor to between 65 degrees C and 85 degrees C. effectively killing it. It works best for early-stage prostate cancers and is not useful for those with large or multiple tumors, as it targets only the tumors and not the surrounding cells. If large areas or many areas are targeted, there will still be side-effects.
The ultrasonic treatment is carried out in a magnetic resonance imaging chamber, so patients with devices like pacemakers or metallic heart valves, or who are claustrophobic, are also not suitable for this treatment. The treatment takes three hours so those who cannot keep still or who cannot undergo anaesthesia are also excluded.
Said Professor Christopher Cheng, the project lead who also heads the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) urology department: “The machine will correct for minor movements but, because the waves need to hit a specific point in the body, the patient cannot move around too much during the three hours.”
Called magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound, this form of treatment may have other uses, such as to treat brain and breast cancer and to shrink uterine fibroids.
This ultrasound treatment for prostate cancer, developed by the SGH together with the National Cancer Centre, is the first of its kind worldwide. The second clinical trial began in February and will involve 40 patients with early-stage prostate cancer to be selected over the next two years. If results are good, the procedure may be available in hospitals within three years. If not, a Phase 3 trial may be required.