More men in Northern Ireland surviving prostate cancer

More men in Northern Ireland are surviving prostate cancer thanks to the latest advances in treatment being carried out by specialists in Belfast with the support of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and local charity Friends of the Cancer Centre.

The encouraging news comes as Belfast gets set to host some of the world’s leading cancer specialists at the UK and Ireland Prostate Brachytherapy Conference at the Ulster Museum tomorrow (Friday 19th May 2017). The event will bring together specialists from across the UK, Ireland and further afield to discuss the latest advances in treatment and some of the developments being made in Northern Ireland. In particular the conference will look at how a combined treatment approach, which was first carried out in Northern Ireland eight years ago, has halved the number of men with intermediate to high risk forms of the disease suffering a relapse of their cancer. The treatment combines external beam radiotherapy with a specialised form of radiotherapy called low dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, which delivers radiation through tiny radioactive seeds inserted directly into the prostate gland. With the support of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and funding from local charity Friends of the Cancer Centre, the Cancer Centre in Belfast was one of the earliest hospitals in the UK and Ireland to offer this combination of treatment to patients, resulting in more men surviving the disease locally.

Dr Darren Mitchell, consultant clinical oncologist at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust was the first consultant to carry out this combination therapy in the UK and Ireland in 2009. Commenting on how Belfast is now leading the way in prostate cancer treatment, he said:

“Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer and in Northern Ireland alone three men are diagnosed with the disease every day. Treatment options have significantly evolved in recent years and Northern Ireland has very much been at the forefront of some of the latest developments, in particular brachytherapy treatment which allows us to accurately place radiation directly into the prostate gland. In 2009 we were made aware of a Canadian study, the ASCENDE-RT Trial, which was showing very positive results by combining external beam radiotherapy with low dose rate brachytherapy. We had the expertise in Belfast to offer this locally and felt that it could have a very significant and positive impact on our patients. We carried out our first combination treatment in 2009 and were one of the earliest centres in the UK or Ireland to adopt this approach. To date nearly 500 men have had prostate brachytherapy in Northern Ireland, with almost 60 men treated with the combined radiotherapy and brachytherapy treatment. The ASCENDE – RT Trial, which was published earlier this year, has shown that 89% of men have no sign of recurrent prostate cancer at 5 years after their combination therapy. In Northern Ireland, all of our patients treated with combination therapy are still alive today which is hugely encouraging. As a team we are proud to have led the way on this and we are now a centre of excellence internationally for this type of treatment. The fact that much of our work is supported by funding from Friends of the Cancer Centre also means that local people who donate to this wonderful charity have played a very big part in this achievement.”

The combination treatment involves a course of external beam radiotherapy followed by low dose rate brachytherapy, where approximately 60 -120 radioactive seeds, each the size of a single grain of rice, are placed directly into the prostate gland in a 45 minute procedure. Patients can usually return home the same day and get back to their everyday life almost immediately. The seeds safely emit radiation over the course of a year, killing the cancer cells in the process, with the seeds remaining permanently implanted in the patient after treatment. As well as the very encouraging results and impact on survival rates, this type of treatment is also kinder to the patient as it causes less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the prostate gland and results in fewer side effects.

The conference will also highlight other developments in prostate cancer treatment and research being made in Belfast which are adding to the increase in the number of men surviving the disease locally. Dr Suneil Jain, Friends of the Cancer Centre’s consultant oncologist at the Cancer Centre, said:

“Northern Ireland is leading the way internationally on prostate cancer treatment and as well as the very positive results being shown through the combination of external beam radiotherapy and LDR brachytherapy, Belfast is also leading the way in prostate cancer research. We are continually developing new clinical trials, which can lead to new and improved ways to treat cancer and give our patients the opportunity to avail of the latest developments in treatment. To be able to host some of the leading oncologists in the world, showing them the progress we are making and the difference our work is having on patients, is a real accolade and firmly puts Northern Ireland on the map. Most importantly, our work is offering hope to hundreds of local patients and giving them a chance to have a longer and better quality of life after cancer treatment.”