In a UK first, doctors at Royal Surrey have treated their 5,000th prostate cancer patient with brachytherapy – radioactive ‘seeds’ implanted in or near a tumour to treat cancer.
Brachytherapy is an alternative treatment to surgery that can have fewer side effects. It involves the insertion of tiny radioactive seeds covering the entirety of the prostate gland tumour. As the radiation is put directly into the prostate, the healthy tissue nearby gets a lower dose of radiation and is less likely to be damaged than with other radiation treatment. It isn’t suitable for all patients and is typically offered either for those whose cancer is considered confined to the prostate gland or in combination with external beam radiotherapy in more advanced cases.
In 1999, Royal Surrey was among the first hospitals in the UK to start treating patients with brachytherapy. Prostate Project trustee, Professor Stephen Langley, Professor of Urology at Royal Surrey, treated the very first patient at Royal Surrey and also operated on the 5,000th patient in May 2022, said:
“For the right patient, brachytherapy is as effective as surgery but with fewer side effects. The radioactive material only affects the tissue very close to it, so it tackles the tumour without harm to the rest of the body. Our published curative rates for brachytherapy are more than 90 per cent for most cancers, with more than 99 per cent of patients retaining urinary continence and more than 80 per cent of men retaining erectile function.”
Richard, a hospital consultant working in the West Country, was the 5,000th brachytherapy patient at Royal Surrey. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago. His condition was initially very low risk and didn’t need treatment until this year when his cancer became malignant and started to grow. After his procedure, he said:
“I chose brachytherapy because it has fewer side effects than the surgery for my condition and a good treatment success rate for my diagnosis. After hearing Professor Langley’s reputation in the field, I asked if he could treat me at Royal Surrey.
“The brachytherapy team couldn’t have been more helpful and the procedure went well. I came out feeling surprisingly fine. A week on, I can now feel that the brachytherapy implants are active which is slightly uncomfortable but I believe this feeling should subside within the next few weeks and I am hopeful this treatment will be successful.”
Doctors at Royal Surrey are only aware of one other centre in the world – in Chicago – that has treated more than 5,000 prostate cancer patients with brachytherapy. Professor Langley said:
“Royal Surrey pioneered brachytherapy treatment more than two decades ago and, today, patients from all over Europe come to receive brachytherapy with us.”
Royal Surrey is one of the UK’s major providers of cancer care with expertise in a wide range of cancers. It serves not only the population local to Royal Surrey but it is also a regional referral centre for the South East and, in some cases, nationally. In 2021 around 8,500 people were treated for cancer at St Luke’s.