Game-changing operation can cure prostate cancer in one hour

Doctors in the UK hope that thousands of men with prostate cancer could be cured through an innovative hour-long operation.

[Dec. 16, 2022: Emily Brown]

The 'game-changing' treatment uses electrical currents to destroy difficult to reach tumours. (Credit: Darryl Leja)

Doctors in the UK hope that thousands of men with prostate cancer could be cured through an innovative hour-long operation.

The 'game-changing' treatment uses electrical currents to destroy difficult to reach tumours. The one-hour ‘Nanoknife’ operation has been described as ‘amazingly simple and quick’ by surgeons.

It uses a technique called irreversible electroporation to administer electrical pulses into the tumour, cutting open the membrane of the cells in a far less invasive manner than standard treatments, meaning there are fewer risks to surrounding organs and tissues.

The introduction of the therapy on the NHS comes as more than 50,000 cases of prostate cancer are detected each year. Treatments for the disease typically involve radiotherapy or surgery to remove the prostate, which can cause problems with urination, incontinence and loss of sexual function.

In comparison, Nanoknife offers a reduced chance of side effects and can be carried out more quickly, with the first six operations on the NHS carried out by surgeons at UCLH.

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Commenting on the treatment, per The Telegraph, consultant urologist Professor Mark Emberton said: ‘This offers us a new class of therapy – it’s a completely new way of destroying cells. The beauty of it is that it’s such a simple technique to train surgeons in. That makes it a game-changer.’

Emberton has said that Nanoknife has the potential to become a standard treatment for prostate cancer as opposed to having it only available in major specialist centres, as is currently the case with targeted treatments.

The professor added: ‘At times like this, when the NHS is under great pressure, day surgery avoids the need for overnight stays in hospital and means that we can use our operating theatres more efficiently.’

Neil Gershon was among the men to receive the treatment on the NHS, saying afterwards that he was drawn in by ‘the fact the chance of collateral damage is much reduced.’

Recalling his experience, he continued: ‘It was all done in a day which was great. When the general anaesthetic wore off, I felt absolutely fine, no pain at all. It couldn’t have gone better.’

Doctor using the Electroporation (NanoKnife) passing electric currents directly into the tumour via a needle to kill off cancerous cells. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Natalia Norori, the knowledge manager at Prostate Cancer UK, has said the therapy could ‘make a big difference to the quality of life of men diagnosed with localised prostate cancer’.

Nanoknife, manufactured by AngioDynamics, works by administering quick electrical pulses, using electrodes, around the tumour to kill the cancerous cells.

Consultant urologist Alistair Grey, who led the first operations using the technique, and his team. (CREDIT: Eddie Mulholland)

Guided by MRI scanning, the short pulses can be targeted to the right area, and surrounding healthy cells are left untouched and preserved, experts said.

Natalia Norori, the knowledge manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "Early studies suggest that treatments like Nanoknife could effectively treat prostate cancer while also reducing side-effects for men. This technology is one of many types of focal therapy on the horizon, which are designed to target the tumour more precisely and limit damage to the rest of the prostate."

This could make a big difference to the quality of life of men and it now needs to be tested in much larger trials to see whether it is as effective as traditional treatments.

The UCLH team has now carried out six procedures, with 70-year-old Neil Gershon among those receiving the treatment on the first day.

Norori added that following the operations at UCLH, Nanoknife now needs to be tested in larger trials.

Symptoms of prostate cancer:

Prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages.

Prostate cancer that's more advanced may cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Trouble urinating

  • Decreased force in the stream of urine

  • Blood in the urine

  • Blood in the semen

  • Bone pain

  • Losing weight without trying

  • Erectile dysfunction

Causes of prostate cancer:

It's not clear what causes prostate cancer.

The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in men and surrounds the top portion of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (urethra). (CREDIT: Getty Images)

Doctors know that prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells do. The abnormal cells continue living, when other cells would die.

Prostate gland: The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in men and surrounds the top portion of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (urethra). The prostate's primary function is to produce the fluid that nourishes and transports sperm (seminal fluid).

The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby tissue. In time, some abnormal cells can break away and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Risk factors for prostate cancer:

Factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

  • Older age. Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age. It's most common after age 50.

  • Race. For reasons not yet determined, Black people have a greater risk of prostate cancer than do people of other races. In Black people, prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.

  • Family history. If a blood relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.

  • Obesity. People who are obese may have a higher risk of prostate cancer compared with people considered to have a healthy weight, though studies have had mixed results. In obese people, the cancer is more likely to be more aggressive and more likely to return after initial treatment.

Prevention of prostate cancer:

The Mayo Clinic believes that people can reduce their risk of prostate cancer if they:

  • Choose a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your health.

  • Whether you can prevent prostate cancer through diet has yet to be conclusively proved. But eating a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables can improve your overall health.

  • Choose healthy foods over supplements. No studies have shown that supplements play a role in reducing your risk of prostate cancer. Instead, choose foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals so that you can maintain healthy levels of vitamins in your body.

  • Exercise most days of the week. Exercise improves your overall health, helps you maintain your weight and improves your mood. Try to exercise most days of the week. If you're new to exercise, start slow and work your way up to more exercise time each day.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, add more exercise and reduce the number of calories you eat each day. Ask your doctor for help creating a plan for healthy weight loss.

  • Talk to your doctor about increased risk of prostate cancer. If you have a very high risk of prostate cancer, you and your doctor may consider medications or other treatments to reduce the risk. Some studies suggest that taking 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, including finasteride (Propecia, Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart), may reduce the overall risk of developing prostate cancer. These drugs are used to control prostate gland enlargement and hair loss.

However, some evidence indicates that people taking these medications may have an increased risk of getting a more serious form of prostate cancer (high-grade prostate cancer). If you're concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor.

Note: Materials provided above by Emily Brown. Content may be edited for style and length.

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Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.