Prostate Cancer

(HIFU) High intensity focused ultrasound

High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) works by generating small areas of energy about the size of a grain of rice. The release of this energy within the prostate causes the tissue to heat up. This change in temperature destroys the prostate cells and any cancerous cells in the area. The small treatment areas can be very carefully located within the prostate, thereby avoiding the delicate organs that lie next to the prostate gland. 

HIFU is an experimental treatment that has been in use since about 2000. Research studies show that HIFU therapy is at least as safe as other treatments for early prostate cancer, and may have fewer side effects. It also appears to be effective in controlling prostate cancer, though the studies that have shown this are relatively new. 

The best results are seen in treating "low-risk", localised prostate cancer. The prostate must be relatively small (less than 40cc) and not contain much calcification. These criteria limit its suitability for many patients.

Men may have their treatment and then go home a few hours later, provided someone else is at home and suitable transport can be arranged, but others stay in hospital for at least a night or two. We talked to one man five weeks after he had experienced this new HIFU treatment. He was taking part in a clinical trial to help assess the results of therapy.  

It is important to note that this is only one man's experience of HIFU.

National Institute for Clinical Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has assessed the use of HIFU for prostate cancer (Guidance IPG424 April 2012) and has found no major safety concerns. Its guidance is that there isn’t enough evidence about quality of life and long-term survival following HIFU treatment, so it’s still not known whether it is as effective as radical prostatectomy or radiotherapy. As a result, NICE  recommends that:

“this procedure should only be used with special arrangements for clinical governance, consent and audit or research.” And “Ensure that patients and their carers understand the uncertainty about the procedure's efficacy and the risks (specifically the risk of sexual dysfunction), and provide them with clear written information.”
More research is needed to assess the harms and benefits of treatment. It is still a new treatment and more data is needed to assess its effectiveness in reducing side effects.
Last reviewed March 2015.
Last updated March 2015.


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