Rigshospitalet in Denmark has developed a new type of treatment using alpha rays in liquid form which has fewer side-effects and means better chances of survival for patients with prostate cancer.
The substance is injected into the arteries through a venflon catheter and then it flows around with the blood and becomes trapped in the bone metastases, where it accumulates. From here it emits alpha particles. “The alpha particles have so much energy that they destroy the cells each time they hit one, although the impact also slows them down them a little. After 6-10 cells the particles stop completely, but they have completely destroyed the cancer cells they have hit,” said Jann Mortensen, who is a Consultant at the Department for Clinical Physiology, Nuclear Medicine and PET at Rigshospitalet.
The substance injected into patients is called Radium 223 and it is only administered in very small doses. It was not permitted to use Radium 223 in treatment until 2013.
“This is the first time we have been able to treat patients with alpha radiation. Previously, all other treatment has been with beta radiation. We treat more or less the same types of patients with alpha radiation as we did with beta; that is patients with prostate cancer with bone metastases, but beta radiation only helps pain relief; not survival. This is the first time a treatment has proven so effective that, in addition to pain relief, a patient also has a better chance of survival, and that’s what makes this new treatment so exciting” said Jann Mortensen.
Rigshospitalet is the first place in Denmark to be granted authorisation to perform treatment with radioactive alpha particles, so until other hospitals in Denmark are also granted permits to perform the same treatment, Rigshospitalet will have to accept patients from throughout Denmark. The treatment has so far only been approved for prostate cancer and bone metastases, but there are many other types of cancer which also spread to the bones, so in principle it will also be possible to treat all types of bone metastases. Trials with breast cancer have been initiated, and if these prove positive, this will probably be the next cancer type for treatment.