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Light therapy to treat prostate cancer proves to be effective

Posted January 2, 2017

The tricky part about cancer treatment is preserving healthy tissue while eliminating cancer cells. Now scientists from UCL came up with a new treatment for low-risk prostate cancer – light therapy. A clinical trial with 413 patients proved the effectiveness of the method.

The method, called “vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy” relies on a two phase process: at first patients are injected with a light-sensitive drug and then a laser is used to activate the drug and destroy cancer cells. Clinical trials showed that 49 % of the patients who were treated using this method went into complete remission compared with 13.5% in the control group. It is extremely good news, because the treatment of prostate cancer almost always relied on irradiating the whole prostate. In fact, men with low-risk prostate cancer are not even treated at all – they are monitored until the disease becomes more severe. Currently used radical therapies have huge side effects and this new light therapy solves that problem.

Professor Mark Emberton, lead investigator in the study, demonstrating the optical fibre. Image credit:

Only 6 % of men in the trial, who were treated with this new method, needed more radical treatment later, compared to 30 % in the control group. It also does not have such adverse long-term side effects. There were 47 treatment sites from ten different European countries included in the study and vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy was new in most of them. This means that specialists do not have to study technology for a long time before applying it. Combining it with innovative diagnosing techniques would allow for a precise and effective treatment and a significantly higher remission rate.

Scientists hope to use the method for the treatment of other types of cancer as well. Interestingly, the drug used in this therapy is derived from bacteria at the bottom of the ocean, which have evolved to convert light into energy with incredible efficiency. This property was used by scientists – when light activates the drug, it hills the surrounding cells. One of the first patients, Gerald, said: “I’m now cancer-free with no side-effects and don’t have to worry about needing surgery in future. I feel so lucky to be in this position. I’ve met other men who had surgery – they had to stay in hospital for days whereas I could go home the next day, and one suffered from terrible incontinence which he found very distressing”.

The process is still not finished – European Medicines Agency now will be looking into results and will decide if the therapy can be offered more widely to other patients. But so far this looks like quite an achievement, because prostate cancer treatment has been lacking behind for many years.


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