Ultrasound prostate cancer treatment may reduce side effects, study shows

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(CBS News) Surviving prostate cancer may lead to long-lasting problems for men because surgery and radiation may cause serious side effects. Now, according to a new U.K. study, a safer ultrasound treatment may leave survivors with fewer side effects.

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The research, published in the April 17 Lancet Oncology, showed that using experimental sound wave treatment known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to target specific cancer sites reduced men's risk of impotence and urinary incontinence.

There will be an estimated 241,740 new cases of prostate cancer in the U.S. in 2012 and the disease will cause 28,170 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. As of now, there are more than 2 million American men have survived prostate cancer, the American Cancer Society said. This includes actor Ryan O'Neal, who recently announced to the he is expected to recover from stage 2 prostate cancer, CBS News reported.

Men with prostate cancer who undergo traditional treatments have a 50 percent chance of a "perfect outcome" of controlling the cancer, and having no side effects like erectile dysfunction or urinary leakage, the researchers said in a news release. This study showed that this new form of treatment could give men a 90 percent chance of reaching that outcome.

The HIFU study tested 41 patients. The doctors used MRI scans of the men's prostates to find the areas affected by tumors. Then the HIFU vibrated a spot on the tissue about the size of a grain of rice until it reached temperatures of 176 degrees F to 194 degrees F, according to statements researchers made to the Telegraph.

After a year, none of the subjects had urinary incontinence, only 10 percent reported erectile dysfunction and 95 percent of the patients were cancer free. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the entire process cost about $4000, a bargain when compared to the average price of $7170 for treating prostate cancer with a surgical method.

"This could offer a transformation of the way we treat prostate cancer," lead researcher Dr. Hashim Ahmed, a urological surgeon at the University College Hospital in London, told BBC News. It's a cost-effective treatment that could "offer men with early prostate cancer an opportunity to treat their disease, but with very few side-effects," he said.

Another positive about HIFU treatment is doesn't involve incisions, cutting down on recovery time. Standard therapy involves treating the whole prostate either with radiotherapy or surgery. It can damage surrounding tissue, leading to urinary incontinence in five to 25 percent of cases, erections insufficient for intercourse in 30 to 70 percent of cases and rectal problems in five to ten percent of cases, according to the press release.

Richard Williams, who had the ultrasonic treatment for two tumors, told Sky News that he left the hospital the same day and had no side effects.

"It was far less trouble than having a tooth pulled," he said.

While HIFU treatment is promising, nothing is more important than early detection. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that early screenings could reduce prostate deaths as much as 29 percent.