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Stereotactic body radiation therapy is an effective treatment option that is cost-effective and convenient for patients.

Prostate cancer patients treated with stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) show excellent quality of life within three years after treatment, according to a study led by University of North Carolina researchers.

The multi-center clinical trial, presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) 2013 annual meeting, included 139 patients with low or intermediate-risk prostate cancer from 10 institutions across the United States who were treated with SBRT technology using the brand name CyberKnife. Lead presenter Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Radiation Oncology in the UNC School of Medicine and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said the promising results highlight SBRT’s potential as a cost-effective treatment option that is also convenient for patients.

“This treatment is a unique example where technological development and advancement for oncologic treatment can actually be cost-savings to the health care system, rather than the opposite,” said Dr. Chen.

Patients in the study were monitored for quality of life changes from before to three years after treatment, including assessments regarding urinary incontinence, urinary obstruction or irritation, bowel issues and sexual function, which are the most common types of side effects after prostate cancer treatments. The patients, ranging from age 45 to 82, reported low rates (less than 10 percent) of urinary incontinence, other urinary symptoms, and bowel issues. Less than 20 percent of patients reported changes in their sexual function from before to after treatment.

“We were encouraged to find that the majority of patients were able to maintain a high quality of life within three years after SBRT treatment. Quality of life is especially important in this disease because most patients can be cured with existing treatment options,” said Dr. Chen.

Traditional intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) requires patients to undergo eight-to-nine weeks of treatment comprised of 40-45 daily sessions. By utilizing higher daily doses of radiation delivered with greater precision, SBRT allows patients to complete outpatient radiation treatments in a single week of four-to-five sessions. Higher daily doses are also hypothesized to be more effective in treating prostate cancer than traditional IMRT.

“If we are able to shorten treatment for this disease from eight to nine weeks to just one week, we are saving patients time. We are allowing them to get back to their lives much quicker. There is lower personal cost to this treatment because patients are able to get back to work earlier,” said Dr. Chen.

First approved by the FDA for use in tumor treatment in 2001, SBRT technology has been used as a treatment for prostate cancer for approximately five years at select institutions across the U.S. The technology directs radiation using a linear accelerator mounted to a robotic arm, allowing for precise delivery of radiation. The UNC-led study is one of the largest to examine the quality of life impact of this treatment.

The study will continue to monitor patients through 10 years after treatment.