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Prostate cancer radiation treatments differ in effectiveness and side effects

Apr 17th, 2012
Staff Writer

IMRT use has soared in prostate cancer treatmentA prostate-cancer treatment called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy -- or IMRT -- causes fewer side effects and better prevents cancer recurrence compared to conventional conformal radiation therapy, researchers reported Tuesday.

The study was highly anticipated because several new radiation treatments for localized prostate cancer have emerged in recent years. More than 241,000 U.S. men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, according to the authors of the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Patients and doctors are often drawn to new treatments, but there have not been many studies that directly compare new radiation therapy options to older ones," said Dr. Ronald Chen, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

IMRT use has soared since 2000, but there is little data on how the various radiation treatments for local prostate cancer compare in terms of effectiveness and side effects. Radiation treatment can damage the organs around the prostate and cause chronic urinary problems and erectile dysfunction. The dose of radiation received is critical to long-term side effects.

The study compared conformal radiation to IMRT and proton therapy. Each are radiation treatments that aim to reduce a tumor while sparing healthy tissue around the cancer.

The study found that compared to conformal radiation therapy, IMRT was associated with fewer diagnoses of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as rectal bleeding or diarrhea, hip fractures and additional cancer therapy, but more difficulty with sexual function.

In addition, IMRT is as effective as proton therapy, a newer technique that has become popular in recent years. Proton therapy, which is more expensive, was linked to more gastrointestinal problems than IMRT.

"In the past 10 years, IMRT has largely replaced conventional CRT as the main radiation technique for prostate cancer, without much data to support it," Chen said. "This study validated our change in practice, showing that IMRT better controls prostate cancer and results in fewer side effects.