London: Remote sensing is helping a new radiotherapy treatment combat prostate cancer.
The revolutionary technique has already been used on dozens of patients at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
Because it only pinpoints cancer cells, it could impart a cutting edge to radiotherapy for thousands of men and save them from the unpleasant side-effects, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.
The therapy works by using three tiny transmitters, the size of a rice grain, implanted in the tumour. They give off a constant stream of signals, up to 10 a second, that are picked up by a receiver in X-ray equipment.
This tracks the signals in much the same way that satellites in space pick up readings from a moving car. The same machine also delivers radiotherapy.
The new technology means the radioactive beam can be aimed precisely at the prostate tumour, avoiding the `collateral damage` that can occur with existing radiotherapy treatments.
One of the first signs of prostate cancer can be frequent urination, as the tumour presses on the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).
In severe cases, treatment can include major surgery to remove the prostate, a procedure that can leave men incontinent and unable to achieve an erection.
One of the major problems with radiotherapy is that the slightest movement during treatment means radiation can penetrate healthy tissue.
But the new device, called the Calypso System, is smart enough to detect when the tumour has moved as little as a millimetre off-course and instantly turns off the radioactive beam.
A second or two later, when it senses that the tumour is back within range, it automatically turns the beam on.
The company behind it, Seattle-based Calypso Medical Technologies, predicts it could help other tumours, such as breast cancer.
Every year, nearly 32,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed and 10,000 men die from it in Britain. The risks increase with age, with men over 50 more likely to develop a tumour.