NHS funds tech to protect prostate cancer patients during radiation treatment

An innovation that can reduce the side-effects of radiotherapy for prostate cancer patients by over 70 per cent will be rolled out across the NHS, as part of the Long Term Plan to put cutting-edge treatments at the heart of people’s care.

Thanks to a deal struck by the NHS with manufacturer Boston Scientific, hospitals in England will now be encouraged to use its hydrogel device for all patients who could benefit, making radiotherapy a safer and less painful treatment option for many men.

As part of its ambition to save tens of thousands more lives over the next decade, the NHS is introducing new ‘one stop shops’ across the country to speed up cancer diagnosis.

Thanks to greater awareness of the disease raised by celebrities like Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry, more people than ever are getting checked for prostate cancer – meaning more can get life-saving treatment.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “This further advance in NHS care for prostate cancer means patients will have safer treatment with fewer side effects.

“It’s another step forward in world class cancer care.”

The use of SpaceOAR hydrogel is being funded as part of a scheme to fast track specific innovations into the NHS, which over the past three years has already benefitted over 300,000 patients.

The Innovation and Technology Payment programme runs a competitive process to find the most promising new tests and treatments, and makes them available to hospitals for free, removing cost as a barrier to adoption.

Dr Sam Roberts, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England, said: “This programme has been amazingly successful at getting new innovations to patients, with over 300,000 patients benefitting from previous innovations, and this year we have another great selection of proven innovations.

“We will build on this success with our commitments set out in the Long Term Plan, to support innovators and the NHS to remove barriers to uptake so patients can benefit faster.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with more than 40,000 new cases diagnosed in England each year.

When prostate cancer is caught early enough, radiotherapy can be a highly effective treatment.

High-energy X-rays are targeted at the prostate, killing cancer cells and preventing them from spreading.

However, the radiation is not absorbed by the prostate, meaning that nearby healthy organs can be affected.

The hydrogel acts as a spacer, reducing the amount of radiation that can pass through the prostate and damage the rectum during treatment, by temporarily positioning it away from the high dose radiation used in treatment.

The gel, made mostly of water, is injected before treatment starts and then remains in place during radiation therapy, before being naturally absorbed by the body after about 6 months.

In studies, its use has been shown to relatively reduce life-changing side effects, such as rectal pain, bleeding and diarrhoea, by over 70%, meaning significant improvements in quality of life for those battling prostate cancer.

Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “While radiotherapy is very effective at treating cancer, it can also cause side effects, including bowel, urinary and sexual problems.

“We welcome any proven innovations that will help reduce these side effects, and are pleased to see the NHS taking action to make sure they reach men as soon as possible.”

The NHS’ own innovation agencies – the 15 Academic Health Science Networks across England – are now taking responsibility for driving up the use of SpaceOAR hydrogel for appropriate patients in local hospitals.

Professor Amit Bahl, consultant clinical oncologist at University Hospitals Bristol, said: “This is a fantastic outcome for prostate cancer patients, who now have the opportunity to undergo radiation treatment with minimising the associated potential side effects. The Hydrogel Spacer is clinically proven to lower radiation exposure to the surrounding organs and tissues.

“Potential side-effects from radiation exposure are a major concern for men who are given the option of radiotherapy and can often negatively impact men’s decision to accept this treatment option.

“New technology such as radiotherapy delivery systems and SpaceOAR hydrogel are important, they give men the confidence that not only are we doing our best to treat the cancer, but also that we are protecting their long-term quality of life from bowel, urinary and erectile dysfunction.”