High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a non-invasive therapy for localized prostate cancer that offers an alternative to those patients who are not eligible for (or do not wish to have) surgery. It is also an effective treatment for patients who have a recurrence of cancer after having received conventional radiotherapy.
HIFU is performed under epidural and the patient is generally admitted as a day case. A probe is inserted into the rectum and this emits a high intensity beam that elevates the temperature of the tissue at the point of focus. The rise in heat destroys the cells at the target and by repeating the application of the beam it is possible to destroy the whole tumor with minimal effects to the rectal wall. When the procedure is over the patient is then catheterized and, although the catheter must stay in place for up to three weeks, a normal lifestyle can be resumed almost immediately.
HIFU is a fairly new treatment and this means that it is difficult to compare its results to the more established methods. However, due to the ability to determine the focus of cell destruction it seems that HIFU is more capable of avoiding damage to the nerves surrounding the prostate. Its current success rate is certainly equivalent to cryotherapy and prostatectomy and there is the indication that the side effects of HIFU treatment may be less than the other therapies offered but this is yet to be confirmed.