A successful first trial of shorter, more convenient radiotherapy treatment for men with prostate cancer could reduce the number of exhausting visits to hospital.
New research, published today, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London has found that radiotherapy treatment given to men with prostate cancer in fewer but more intense doses doesn't worsen side effects and could help reduce the number of fatigue-inducing trips to the hospital.
Normal radiotherapy involves delivering a particular amount of radiation in 37 doses, taking just over seven weeks. But in this trial, researchers tested whether they could give a lower total amount of radiation using fewer doses of higher intensity, without compromising how effectively they treated the cancer or making the side effects the men experienced any worse.
The men were divided into three groups: some received the standard intensity of radiation over 37 doses; others received a lower intensity over 20 doses; and the others even lower over 19 doses. Each dose requires a visit to the hospital, so reducing the number of visits can be beneficial to both the hospital administration and the men undergoing treatment.
Today's research doesn't reveal how well the new regimens control the cancer – those results are still to come. But they did measure what side effects they had on the men 10 weeks, six months, a year, 18 and 24 months after treatment. They found that bowel side effects (a common impact of radiotherapy) were similarly low for patients in all three treatment groups, showing that it is safe to change the way radiotherapy is delivered in this way.
"We know that one of the challenges for men receiving radiotherapy is the exhausting impact of travelling to and from hospital for regular treatment," said Ali Rooke, Senior Specialist Nurse at Prostate Cancer UK. "Some men may be reluctant to choose radiotherapy as a treatment option altogether because of the frequency of appointments and the financial burden of travel. So if advances in research can help men get the same benefit from radiotherapy with fewer visits, then that is good news."