According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Skin cancer is the leading cause, and lung cancer is the third most common cause.
Prostate cancer afflicts approximately one out of every nine men in the United States. There is a well-known expression, “Any man who lives long enough will eventually die of prostate cancer.” Although this may be an exaggeration, it does reflect the prevalence of this disease in the very old. It also reflects the fact that as men age, their chances of getting prostate cancer continually increases.
When prostate cancer is detected early, the prospects of survival are quite high: approximately 99% of patients are expected to live for at least five years. However, for those with advanced prostate cancer — meaning the cancer has spread outside of the prostate to surrounding lymph nodes, bones, or other organs — the five-year survival rate is only 29%.
Although the survival rate for prostate cancer is high if detected early, the treatment options currently available usually cause severe and extremely unpleasant side effects. According to Dr. Steven Canfield, a urologist at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston UTHealth, “The side effects of current prostate cancer treatments can be extremely traumatic.”
Recently, a team of scientists from UTHealth experimented with a new technique for the treatment of prostate cancer. Their goal was to develop a method of treatment that avoided the common traumatic side effects associated with the current treatment options of radiation, chemotherapy, cryotherapy, and removal of the entire prostate gland along with some of its surrounding tissue.
The novel treatment developed at UTHealth involves the use of nanoparticles, which consist of small sphere-shaped layers of silica glass, covered with a thin layer of gold. These nanoparticles have the ability to detect — and invade — cancer cells. A laser can then be used to stimulate these nanoparticles, causing them to vibrate, reach very high temperatures, and thus destroy the cancerous cells that surround them.
The most exciting part of this treatment is that it preserves healthy tissue, including vital nerves and the urinary sphincter. Consequently, this technique would prevent people from experiencing two of the most traumatic and common side effects of the current standard treatments: impotence and urinary incontinence.
Dr. Naomi Hales, the head of Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics, was the inventor of the gold-plated nanoparticles that were used in Dr Canfield’s clinical trials.
Both Dr. Hales and Dr. Canfield realized the potential of nanoparticle technology, and worked closely to set up clinical trials for this new technology. The initial results of clinical testing have been extremely positive, and Dr. Canfield is optimistic that this technique may soon become the option of choice for anyone diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer.
The effects of this and similar technique techniques on more advanced stages of prostate cancer have yet to be studied. However, slowly but surely, scientists are chipping away at various cancers, and constantly improving their ability to treat them.
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