We can cut them out surgically, poison them with radiation or chemotherapy, and even freeze them into submission (cryotherapy). We have no shortage of ways to kill prostate cancer cells. The latest addition to the arsenal may be our most potent weapon, but it comes with a little bit of controversy.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) cooks prostate cells with sonic waves. The heat actually melts lipid membranes in human tissue. These membranes form a continuous barrier around all cells, acting as a kind of separator which protects the various cells of the human body. These higher temperatures also result in protein denaturation in which the structure of cellular proteins decay. The disintegration of lipid membranes and proteins ultimately leads to the death of the prostate cancer cell.
HIFU is used to treat cancers of the kidney, liver, pancreas and bladder. It has also been used to treat specific neurological disorders, mitigate pain from bone metastases, and to treat uterine fibroids. HIFU is only useful to treat a single tumor or part of a large tumor. It cannot be used to treat tumors that are more widespread. This means that HIFU is not suitable for people with cancer that has spread to more than one place in their body.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HIFU therapy for treating prostate cancer. However, this technology requires significant urologic training as the technology is complex and caution is being urged. That said, IFU for prostate cancer is not new. The technology has been available in Europe and Asia for more than 15 years.
HIFU is often used to treat tumors that cannot be removed with surgery or for patients who are not able to go through the stresses of surgery. It can usually be done as an outpatient procedure. The procedure may be repeated for tumors that come back or start to grow. It can be used in conjunction with other treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hepatic arterial infusion therapy, alcohol ablation, or chemo-embolization.
The HIFU procedure is a short outpatient procedure and has a low complication rate. The procedure is not painful and is administered under general or spinal anesthesia. After the procedure, a urinary catheter is removed after three or four days. Antibiotics may be prescribed to ensure that the patient does not develop an infection of the urethra or bladder.