A prostate cancer treatment that destroys tumors by freezing them may be as effective in the long term as surgery or radiation.

“Patients who got this treatment often went back to their usual activities within two or three weeks,” study researcher Fletcher Derrick Jr., MD, a urologist at Roper Hospital in Charleston, S.C., tells WebMD. The rate of problems related to the surgery was very low, he says.

Free of Prostate Cancer 10 Years Later

Among 88 men enrolled in the study, 85 percent remained free of prostate cancer for a decade after having the freezing treatment, known as cryoablation or cryosurgery. This is the longest follow-up study of this prostate cancer treatment reported to date.

And the long-term side effects of cryoablation also compared favorably to more established prostate cancer treatments.

While all men were impotent immediately after having the procedure, about a third regained some natural potency without the aid of drugs within a year, Derrick says. Just 2 percent of the men had severe urinary incontinence, but 8 percent had some lesser degree of leakage.

The study was funded by Endocare Inc., which manufacturers a new generation of the guided probe machine used in the new prostate cancer treatment. It included prostate cancer patients treated with cryoablation between 1994 and 2004 at Roper Hospital.

The study was presented March 3 at a regional meeting of the American Urological Association in Charleston.

Cryoablation Not Popular

Although cryoablation has been around for decades, it has been slow to catch on as a prostate cancer treatment because complication rates were high with earlier versions of the technology.

Cryoablation is suitable for men who have not previously received prostate cancer treatment and whose prostate cancer has not spread. Men who have already been treated with radiation can also receive cryoablation as long as the cancer has not spread.

The procedure involves inserting thin, temperature-controlled probes through the skin and into the prostate gland. In most cases the entire prostate is frozen, but researchers are also experimenting with directly targeting the cancer in men with single tumors.

Cryoablation Needs More Time

American Urology Association spokesman J. Brantley Thrasher, MD, tells WebMD that cryoablation is one of several emerging prostate cancer treatments that could eventually prove superior to traditional surgery and radiation.

“In the case of cryoablation the problem is that these new machines haven’t been out long enough to give us good long-term data on their effectiveness,” he says. “Before this is widely adopted, most academic centers and urologists are going to want to see this.”

But Thrasher says more and more men are open to new prostate cancer treatments, especially if they prove to have fewer long-term side effects.

“They want the long-term cure, but there is also an increasing understanding of quality of life issues in the treatment of prostate cancer,” he says. “A minimally invasive approach like this one is very appealing. We just need more data to be able to adequately answer our patients’ questions.”

By Salynn Boyles, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: 69th Annual Meeting of the South East Section of the American Urological Association, Charleston, S.C., March 3, 2005. Fletcher C. Derrick Jr., MD, urologist, Roper Hospital, Charleston, S.C.; consultant, Endocare Inc., Irvine, Calif. J. Brantley Thrasher, MD, chairman, Public Media Committee, American Urological Association; chairman, department of urology, University of Kansas School of Medicine.