Treatments for prostate cancer are always evolving, and now research is pointing to new ways of treating a cancer that has just begun to spread, or metastasize, after initial surgery or radiation. Doctors usually give hormonal therapies in these cases to block testosterone, which is a hormone that makes the cancer grow faster. But newer evidence shows that treating the metastatic tumors directly with radiation can produce better results.
In March, researchers published the latest study that supports this approach. Based at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, the team used a method for delivering powerful beams of high-dose radiation to very small cancers in the body. This approach is called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), and it can spare healthy tissues with remarkable precision. Doctors map out where to pinpoint the radiation in advance by putting patients into a computed tomography (CT) scanner that takes x-rays of the body from many different angles.
During their study, the Johns Hopkins team recruited 54 men with three or fewer metastatic tumors. All the men had already undergone initial treatment for cancer while it was still in the prostate, and some had also been treated with hormonal therapy, though not within six months of being enrolled for the research. The men were 68 years old on average, and they were each randomly assigned to one of two groups: A third of the men were placed in an observation (control) group, meaning they received no additional treatment until the study was over. The rest were given SABR at a rate of one to five treatments per tumor over a period of about a week.
Then the men were followed for six months and monitored for changes such as PSA increases, tumor growth, worsening symptoms, or how many men wound up on hormona