A gentler form of prostate cancer treatment that takes only 30 minutes has been devised by British surgeons.
The technique is just as effective as surgery but is cheaper and has fewer side effects.
This means men are back on their feet and back at work sooner and are much less likely to suffer problems such as impotence and incontinence.
Most importantly, the technique, called 4D brachytherapy, is available on the NHS.
The treatment, pioneered at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, is a more advanced version of brachytherapy, a technique which has been used successfully for more than a decade.
Brachytherapy, used on men in the early stages of prostate cancer as an alternative to conventional radiotherapy or surgery, consists of radioactive ‘seeds’ which are implanted into the prostate gland to destroy the tumour from inside.
This targeted radiation means higher doses can be used than in traditional radiotherapy and also helps to ensure the bladder and surrounding tissues are not damaged.
It also has fewer side effects than prostate removal surgery – a major operation which can involve days in hospital and weeks off work.
Surgery also often causes incontinence and leaves up to 80 per cent of men impotent. Brachytherapy usually takes around three hours but the team have refined it to take as little as half an hour without losing any effectiveness.
Surgeons use a two-minute scan to take five key measurements of a man’s prostate. These are fed into a computer programme which uses information from hundreds of previous operations to work out how many seeds are needed and where they should go.
Up to 120 seeds, each the size of a grain of rice, are then inserted into the prostate in an operation that takes between 30 to 40 minutes.
Patients are often discharged on the same day and return to work within 48 hours.
Some 83 per cent of men remain potent, more than both surgery and conventional brachytherapy.
Incontinence is also much rarer, with fewer than one in 100 patients suffering bladder problems afterwards and, unlike surgery, patients do not need to use a catheter.
The treatment is at least as successful at eradicating cancer as surgery and is slightly cheaper at around £5,000 per patient.
The technique’s pioneer, consultant urological surgeon Professor Stephen Langley, said surgery and 4D brachytherapy were ‘chalk and cheese’.
He said: ‘One option takes five hours and involves a catheter, the other takes 30 minutes and you are out the same day.
‘They are for the same disease, just different treatments.’
Professor Langley is training doctors from a number of British hospitals in the hope that the treatment will soon be in widespread use.
Meg Burgess, specialist nurse at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘We look forward to seeing how this new technique compares to existing brachytherapy treatments and welcome any evidence of a benefit to men with prostate cancer.’