For GPs

Study Outlines Radiation Therapy Benefits For Prostate Cancer Patients

12 Feb 2018

A new study has found prostate cancer patients in New Zealand who chose radiation therapy to treat their cancer encountered comparably low rates of subsequent cancers and further hospital admissions for complications due to treatment.

The study, which looked at more than 400 prostate cancer patients who had undergone radiation therapy treatment,  also showed there was a “low chance” of radiation therapy patients needing further future hospital treatment or developing a cancer due to radiation exposure.

Study co-author Dr Melissa James, a radiation oncologist with the Canterbury District Health Board, said she hoped the findings would help debunk myths about prostate cancer radiation therapy.

“I wasn’t surprised by these results,” Dr James said.  “You sometimes see negative coverage about radiation therapy (as a treatment), but this study confirms that radiation is a safe treatment option.”

The study, entitled ‘Complications of Curative Radiation Treatment For Early Prostate Cancer’,  was initiated after previous research in Canada showed relatively high rates of patients needing further hospital treatment after undergoing radiation therapy and analysed the medical records of 439 prostate cancer patients in New Zealand aged between 45 and 85. All the patients had undergone curative intent external beam radiation therapy to treat localised prostate cancers between January 2002 and December 2009.

The study showed that 56 of the 439 patients who selected radiation therapy developed a radiation-related urological complication (five-year incidence 3.95%), with only 25 needing hospital admission (five-year incidence 2.24%). None of the patients needed further open surgical procedures in the years after these admissions.

The study also analysed rates of developing a new cancers after prostate cancer treatment and found 10.7% of patients who chose radiation therapy for their prostate cancer developed a second new cancer, at any part of the body, between five to nine years after their initial diagnosis. Analysis of 265 prostate cancer patients who chose surgery showed similar rates of a second new cancer – 9.92%.

Dr Melissa James says the new study shows radiation therapy can be a safe treatment for prostate cancer patients.

It concluded that, based on these results, there was a “reassuringly low” chance of patients who underwent prostate cancer radiation therapy needing future urological operations, open surgical treatments, admissions to hospital and a very low chance of developing a cancer due to radiation.

The complication rates were also much lower than reported in the Canadian report. “It is difficult to know exactly why this is,” Dr James said. “All we can take is the implication that radiation therapy is a safe and viable treatment option for prostate cancer patients to consider.” Men with prostate cancer need to be referred to a radiation oncologist by a urologist (prostate surgeon) or a GP to discuss this alternative option to surgery.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among New Zealand men, with approximately 3000 cases each year and 600 deaths.

It is estimated there will be about 17,800 new cases in Australia during 2018.

Men with prostate cancer need to be referred to a radiation oncologist by a urologist (prostate surgeon) or a GP to discuss this alternative option to surgery.

Dr James said it was important to keep cancer patients informed of all treatment options open to them, as well as benefits and potential downsides.

“I am not saying radiation therapy doesn’t have any side effects, but it is good to reassure people that the side effect rates are low and that radiation therapy may be an option for them,” she said.

“Resources like the Targeting Cancer campaign are doing a really helpful job of promoting radiation therapy. Anything that can spread the word is great.”

For more information on the study, click here.

For more information about prostate cancer and how radiation therapy can be an effective treatment, click here.