Each year, approximately 220,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and those men and their families must decide what treatment option is best for their needs. For some, active surveillance is an ideal approach to handle slow-growing cancers that do not present an immediate risk. For others, more aggressive treatment is chosen first to limit the risk cancer poses. Surgical removal of the prostate gland, radiation and cryotherapy are some common treatment options chosen. Unfortunately, many men find that these available treatments are not ideal due to the potential treatment-related side effects.
Now, with the introduction of a new technology and treatment device to the American public, these men and their families have a promising option that provides a minimally invasive therapy that can reduce the risk of side effects while still providing excellent outcomes. That treatment is High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU).
What Is HIFU?
HIFU is a relatively new concept for treating prostate cancer in the United States but has been used around the world since the mid 1990’s. The treatment uses powerful ultrasound technology to precisely destroy the cancer within the prostate. Because it uses pinpoint accuracy, HIFU is able to do this without damaging the adjacent structures and tissue. This, in turn, reduces the risk of life-altering side effects, such as loss of urine control and erectile dysfunction, which are common with other more invasive treatment options.
The HIFU procedure uses an ultrasound probe that serves as both a diagnostic tool and treatment delivery tool. During the procedure, the patient is placed under general anesthesia and the ultrasound probe is inserted into the rectum. The probe uses real-time ultrasound imaging to guide the treatment. Using those images the surgeon is able to direct a focused beam of ultrasound energy directly into the cancer. HIFU treatment involves targeting the cancerous tissue to precisely treat the cancer without much, if any, damage to the surrounding tissue.
HIFU can be used to treat the entire gland, or in appropriate cases it can be used to perform focal therapy. Focal therapy involves treating specific areas within the prostate known to have cancer. Prior to focal HIFU, staging with prostate MRI and MRI-guided biopsy is critical to ensure that all areas with cancer are identified. Using fusion technology, prostate MRI imaging can be used to direct targeted biopsy for cancer diagnosis, and then map out the treatment delivery for targed, focal HIFU treatment.
Benefits and Potential for HIFU Treatment
HIFU provides several benefits for prostate cancer patients and their families that allow many men who are concerned about treatment side effects to choose treatment over active surveillance. The precise treatment destroys the cancer while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. This allows men to enjoy a normal quality of life with fewer problems typical of other prostate cancer treatments, including erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
Because HIFU is non-invasive and requires no incisions, recovery time is quite short. Most patients experience minimal discomfort and are able to enjoy normal activities almost immediately after the procedure. The treatment is done on an outpatient basis, requiring no hospitalization.
Finally, HIFU involves no radiation. This means it is safe to repeat, if needed, and does not have a lasting effect on the body after the ablation procedure is complete.
New HIFU Treatment Now Available in the United States
Recently HIFU gained national attention as it became more readily available to American patients. In October 2015, HIFU received regulatory clearance by the FDA for prostate tissue ablation in men here in the US. Several facilities throughout in the US have begun treating prostate cancer patients using this state-of-the-art technlogy. A handful of urologists have expertise and training with HIFU, which is critical to ensure good results.
This technology offers great hope to prostate cancer patients and their families, providing a treatment alternative with excellent outcomes.