02 Apr 2012
Stephen is matter of fact about having had cancer, and when he talks about his disease it’s clear that he’s put the experience behind him. Today he’s feeling well, has no lasting side effects from treatment, and leads a busy life as an art dealer; running the family business in Chester and travelling to antiques fairs around the UK to sell paintings.
Stephen’s good health is largely thanks to his participation in an MRC-funded trial of an experimental treatment called High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) focal therapy which uses sound waves to selectively treat individual cancer sites as small as a grain of rice. It works by causing tissue to vibrate and heat to over 80 degrees, killing the cancer cells.
Research suggests that focal therapy leaves behind far fewer side effects than conventional treatments for prostate cancer, such as surgery or radiotherapy.
This was something that appealed to Stephen: “I was diagnosed in 2005, and it was staggering really, to find out I had cancer, when I felt completely healthy. I didn’t like the possibility of the side effects with the usual treatments so I wanted to see if there was a better answer. I found out about the trial by trawling the internet. It was daunting to receive a new treatment that nobody had ever had before, but not as daunting as the possibility of surgery.”
The trial, led by Hashim Ahmed at University College London, involved several trips down to the capital for MRI scans and mapping biopsies to pinpoint the exact location of the cancer within the prostate glands. The areas identified by the research team were then targeted with HIFU.
“I’ve only had to have the treatment once,” explains Stephen. “I had it done under general anaesthetic and it didn’t really hurt afterwards. The next day I got the train home and was back at work in the shop the following morning. After a couple of weeks I felt completely back to normal.”
Surgery or radiotherapy for prostate cancer can leave men with side effects such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. However, results from the Focal HIFU trial showed that 12 months after treatment, none of the 41 men in the trial had incontinence problems and just one in 10 suffered from poor erections. A year after having treatment, 95 per cent of the men were cancer-free.
Stephen and the other trial participants are still being monitored with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, which give an indication of whether more tests are needed. A larger trial in 154 patients across seven hospitals is now underway to see if the treatment is as effective as conventional therapy for keeping prostate cancer at bay in the medium- and long-term.
Stephen says: “I’m definitely glad I took part in the research – the results have been good for me. Obviously it may recur at any time, and I suppose if you’re prone to have cancer there’s a possibility it could happen again – but then the treatment could be repeated.”