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High-Energy Ultrasound Cooks Prostate Tumors

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May 3, 2000 (Atlanta, Ga.) -- An experimental technique that literally puts the heat on prostate cancers has worked for virtually all of a select group of patients.

The treatment is known as high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), and it uses a probe inserted in the rectum to produce temperatures near the boiling point to kill cancer cells.

So far, the approach has been used on about 440 patients in a four-year study performed by Christian Chaussy, MD, a German urologist. These patients, because of their age or health problems, were not candidates for surgical removal of the prostate -- a walnut-size gland at the base of the bladder that is a leading site of cancer in men. However, since their disease hadn't spread throughout the gland, they were eligible for HIFU.

Chaussy says that of the 440 men treated, 78% had a cancer-free test afterward and the rate improved to 96% with a second HIFU treatment. "It looks very much that we might have [an option for a cure] with this technique," Chaussy says. His findings were presented at a meeting of urologists here this week.

However, there are some caveats to the procedure. First, HIFU hasn't been around long enough to compare it with surgery -- still the gold standard for prostate cancer. Second, there are side effects including a high rate of urinary tract infections, some incontinence, and a rare fistula -- in effect a hole burned through the prostate into the rectum.

On the positive side, PSA tests, the most common method used to indicate the presence of disease, dropped dramatically in the majority of the patients treated. Recovery time also was quick, typically less than one day in the hospital.

Chaussy says only about half the patients were potent after the 90-minute procedure, which delivers heat at a series of focal points controlled by a computer. However, the researcher says the sexual function rate may be increased to about 90% if the patient's disease is on just one side of the prostate. Then only that side is treated, but Chaussy says that means there's a slightly higher chance the disease may return.

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