Halving prostate cancer treatment time

Mar 30 2017

Associate Professor Jarad Martin

Researchers are celebrating the results of a new clinical trial, which shows that radiation therapy for prostate cancer can safely be compressed from a standard eight weeks of daily treatment down to four weeks with the same cure rate and no difference in side effects. 

Radiation therapy is a proven treatment option for many men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Treatment is safe, effective, non-invasive and done as an outpatient. With modern techniques the risk of side effects is low.  A standard course is often given five days a week over eight weeks, which can make treatment challenging for some men.

This is especially true if they live in regional parts of Australia.  New technologies allow more accurate and highly focussed radiation therapy.  This potentially opens the door to giving a slightly bigger dose each day and completing the treatment faster.

Associate Professor Jarad Martin, of the Calvary Mater Newcastle and HMRI's Cancer Research Program, is the Australian Chair of the study (known as the PROFIT trial), which directly compared an 8 week standard treatment course with a 4 week alternative.  The international project, involving Canadian and French researchers, included over 1200 men with a common type of prostate cancer termed ‘intermediate risk disease’. 

After several years of monitoring these men, Associate Professor Martin and his collaborators have announced that there was no difference between cure rates or side effects between the 8 and 4 week groups.  On the basis of this long awaited information, many Australian cancer centres are now beginning to offer a four-week radiation therapy program as a standard treatment option for men with prostate cancer.

Associate Professor Martin sees many upsides: “The duration of treatment is a major issue for many of our patients. The message from them is that the shorter the treatment period the better.

"There are also economic benefits to shorter treatment times which reduce hospital workload and costs as well as the time off work and transport for men and their families.  Radiation therapy is already a safe and effective treatment option for men with prostate cancer. PROFIT is another step in us exploring novel ways to make a good treatment more convenient."

Associate Professor Martin adds that many Australian patients are concerned at what they see as long treatment times for radiation.

“Patients will sometimes hesitate if told the radiation treatment could last two months. But now we can offer treatment that lasts just four weeks and many patients are opting for that.”