Shorter radiotherapy regime for prostate cancer could save NHS millions

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A shorter course of prostate cancer radiotherapy is as effective as the current standard treatment for both survival and quality of life, according to a major new study.

The 14-year trial, which showed the benefits of a shorter radiotherapy regime involving fewer hospital visits and higher individual doses of radiotherapy, was led by a team at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

The study authors believe the new treatment schedule will be more convenient for patients and could save the NHS tens of millions of pounds every year.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, found benefits for a 20-dose course of a modern type of radiotherapy over the current NHS standard, a 37-dose course.

The researchers said the findings of their study was evidence for a change in clinical practice for prostate cancer radiotherapy with the 20-dose schedule becoming the new standard.

More than 3200 men were involved in the trial at more than 70 research centres across the UK. All were being treated for prostate cancer between 2002 and 2011. 

The study compared the standard radiotherapy schedule of 37 doses of 2 Grays per day with two other regimes – one delivering 19 doses of 3 Gray per day, and the other 20 doses of 3 Gray per day.

The results showed that after five years, the 20-dose schedule was not inferior to the 37-dose schedule for treatment effectiveness or quality of life.

Previous similar trials from the same research group proved the benefits of fewer, higher doses of radiation in breast cancer, and helped set NICE guidance that has saved the NHS around £50 million a year since 2009.

The new regime for prostate cancer would save 17 hospital trips and complex radiotherapy treatments for each patient, leading to a reduction nationally of more than 150,000 visits per year.