Breakthrough for prostate cancer sufferers

  • cancer
  • HIFU
  • MRI

IT’S a new treatment for Southampton than can transform the life of those fighting prostate cancer.

For the first time in the city, doctors have successfully treated a patient with an innovative therapy that avoids the need for invasive surgery.

From targeting only cancerous cells in the prostate gland, to offering men a much quicker recovery – High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) has been hailed a major step forward in fighting the disease.

It marks the next stage of one Southampton surgeon’s mission to get the city delivering world-class prostate cancer care.


The therapy allows doctors to destroy unhealthy tissue with rapid heat elevation, with ultrasound energy – or sound waves – focused at a specific location in the body.

Any tissue at that focal point is destroyed but importantly, tissue outside of this spot is unharmed – unlike radiotherapy where both healthy and unhealthy cells are damaged causing significant side effects.

This has been made possible thanks to the MRI technology which means doctors can now locate exactly where the tumours are and which ones pose a danger and those that do not.

Previously, unable to locate where the cancer was, radiotherapy was used to blast the whole gland or surgery was needed to remove the whole prostate in a bid to eradicate the disease.

Both these come with various side effects, damaging the sexual and urinary function in the patients, who could spend weeks in hospital.

But this new therapy has the major advantage of lower side effects because on the cancer is targeted and preserves sexual and urinary function in more than 90 per cent of men treated.

Patients will be given a general anaesthetic and once asleep, an ultrasound probe will be placed into the rectum. The Sonablate or Ablatherm is then able to capture real-time images of the prostate gland, allowing the treating physician to create a customised treatment plan for each patient – pinpointing the areas for treatment.

The physician then uses the Sonablate or Ablatherm, which in Southampton was provided by Nuada Medical, to deliver the ultrasound energy to extremely small target sites, or focal points, throughout the prostate gland.

Unlike radiation, HIFU uses clean energy, so the procedure can be repeated, if necessary, without damaging healthy tissue.

In most cases the HIFU procedure lasts between 30 minutes and three hours depending on the size of the prostate.

A catheter is left in place following the procedure for drainage of urine and will remain for 3-14 days and there is typically little pain associated with the procedure so patients usually get back to their normal routine within just a few days.