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Ultrasound blasts prostate cancer

Today, the BBC is reporting another medical “breakthrough” – high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) for treating prostate cancer as an adjunct or even alternative to radiotherapy, chemo, and invasive surgery. Ultrasound can be highly focused, essentially boiling the diseased tissue rather than damaging surrounding tissues with the risk of incontinence and impotence associated with invasive surgery.

It’s good news for prostate cancer sufferers, but as far as I am aware HIFU has been used to treat prostate cancer since at least 1989. The technique was first developed in France by Inserm scientists and others and the Ablatherm HIFU was first marketed for the disease in 2000. The first “commercial” treatments were in 1993 and there have been tens of thousands since.

NHS Choices reported on HIFU back in 2009 when there was a flurry of interest from the media in this “new” technique for treating prostate cancer. It says:

“Current NICE guidance advises that the evidence supports…HIFU for prostate cancer, provided that monitoring, audit and clinical governance of any procedures are carried out. It advises that longer-term effects on survival and quality of life are unknown, and that doctors should therefore ensure that patients understand these uncertainties.”

The BBC itself has reported on HIFU for prostate cancer before, there was a report in February 2011 hailing the benefits of the “new” treatment. As an aside, they refer to the urethra as the “water pipe” in that report, how quaint. So, why is this news on the BBC Radio 4 Today program today, could it be that the editors and journalists on the show simply hadn’t heard of HIFU before and so assumed it was new when a press release came from Lancet Oncology touting the benefits over surgery (in a 41-patient trial)? You can almost bet your gland on it.

Regardless, it is all positive stuff, but it does beggar the question as to why the technique, more than two decades in the development, is only now reaching public ears…

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