Experimental Treatments

A variety of alternative therapies for the primary treatment of prostate cancer are in the experimental stages. One such therapy is hyperthermia, in which the prostate gland is warmed; this treatment is thought to improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy. The warming may be done by inserting small tubes (interstitial radio-frequency) or small seeds (thermoseeds) directly into the prostate.

An alternative form of hyperthermia is high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), which is being used in Europe and Canada. A probe is inserted into the rectum and, over a period of several hours, sends out ultrasound heat waves that destroy the cancer cells. The main drawback of all forms of hyperthermia is the danger of heat damage to the rectum, urethra, and other adjacent tissue. Whether such treatment will result in fewer complications or better outcomes remains to be ascertained.

A form of light therapy is also being studied. A chemical derived from plant chlorophyll is injected intravenously. A laser light source is then beamed into the prostate, causing the chemical to destroy the cancer cells.

Gene therapy is being developed to treat both primary and recurrent prostate cancers. A virus injected into the body goes to the cancer cells, where it delivers a specific gene. This gene makes the cancer cells more susceptible to drugs, which are then administered to the patient.

In addition, various drugs are being examined for possible use against prostate cancer. Included are drugs that directly attack cancer cells, drugs that make the cancer cells more susceptible to other forms of treatment, and drugs that cut off the blood supply to the cancer. Most experimental drugs are being developed for recurrent prostate cancer, but a few are directed at primary prostate cancers.

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