A game-changing “search and destroy” treatment could offer new hope to thousands of men with incurable prostate cancer.
The first two UK patients were treated last weekend, after research found that it could significantly extend survival for those with no other treatment options.
Charities said they were “thrilled” by the promise shown by the treatment which simultaneously identifies and attacks a protein expressed on the surface of prostate cancer cells.
One in five men lived for almost three years after receiving the targeted radiotherapy.
Medics at the world’s largest cancer conference, in Chicago, said the treatment was a “huge” breakthrough, giving hope to around 5,000 men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in Britain annually.
The method is based on imaging techniques which light up tumours, in order to plan future treatment. The new technique simultaneously delivers a radioactive payload, which experts described as delivering “a bullet instead of a light”.
The technique – called prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) radiotherapy – has been dubbed a “search and destroy” method of treatment.
It uses radioactive isotope, which binds to a protein on the surface of malignant cells, attacking them without damaging surrounding tissues.
Professor Johann de Bono of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, who is co-leading a global phase three study of the technique, said: “It is a huge deal. It is one of the next big things.
“There is no doubt it is causing substantially durable remission, and we are optimistic that it’s going to make it,” he said, speaking ahead of a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Australian oncologist Arun Azad, who is involved in one of 10 trials currently taking place, said: “It is potentially game changing. If the results are positive it really will change the landscape of how we treat prostate cancer.”
Dr Azad, associate professor at the Peter Mac Cancer Centre in Melbourne, said about half of the 10,000 men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in Britain each year may benefit from the treatment.
He hopes that it could ultimately be offered to patients at an earlier stage of the disease – potentially opening it up to thousands more men.
“If we can bring it forward, then it really is transformational,” he said.
Prof Stefano Fanti of the University of Bologna, who is also carrying out a study of the technique, said: “The concept is very simple. What we see is what you treat. Essentially what you have is a bullet instead of a light.”
A recent study of 50 men, by Australian researchers, found that on average it extended survival from nine months to more than 13 months. One in five was still alive almost three years later.
The pioneering technique has just begun being offered privately in the UK, but is offered more widely in Australia and Germany.
It involves up to six treatments, every six to eight weeks, costing around £12,000 each in the UK.
Experts hope that it will be rolled out on the NHS, if the stage three trials proves successful.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, from Prostate Cancer UK, said he was “thrilled” to see the trial results.
“The idea is that by targeting the radiation precisely to the cancer cells, it will destroy them wherever they are in the body but cause minimal harm to healthy tissue,” he said.
Hans Schaupp, 77, last weekend became the first man in Britain to be treated with the new “seek and destroy” technique.
He was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 2012, and has since had nine cycles of chemotherapy, which he found “barbaric”.
Mr Schaupp, from Liphook in Hampshire, said he had suffered no side effects at all since undergoing the targeted radiotherapy, at a clinic in Windsor run by Genesis Care.
“The treatment is fantastic. I was in the clinic for less four hours. Because it is targeted it makes so much more sense. Rather than poisoning your whole body with chemotherapy, it goes straight to the tumours.”
It comes as a study by researchers from Australia and New Zealand found giving men with incurable prostate cancer treatment earlier with the drug enzalutamide could cut the chance of early death by a third.
Currently the drug is only recommended on the NHS if hormone treatment has failed.