Two local doctors have become the first specialists in Andalucía to use a treatment called Irreversible Electroporation (IRE) for patients with prostate cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in men.
Dr Santos and Dr Schulten explain that IRE not only means that a large part of prostate tissue can be preserved and can maintain its function, but because the technique does not use thermal energy it does not cause problems such as the dissipation of heat which affects blood vessels, conduits such as the urethra or critical structures like nerves.
Irreversible Electroporation, which is not yet available on the Spanish national health service, is already being used at a few private centres in Murcia, Zaragoza and Madrid. In Malaga province, the Ochoa and CERAM-Marbella hospitals will be the first to carry out these operations, but as the equipment is portable it can be used elsewhere. The operation costs between 15,000 and 17,000 euros.
In January these two doctors took part in a workshop at the Klinik für Prostatatherapie clinic en Heidelberg, Germany, where about 100 patients have been treated with this procedure. This new technique uses electrical impulses which last for microseconds to open pores in the membranes of the cancerous cells, which die in the weeks following the therapy. The impulses are administered through needle probes situated on or around the tumour, and controlled through ultrasound. The operation is carried out under general anaesthetic, takes between 45 and 90 minutes and the patient can go home within 48 hours.
In Spain about 28,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year and about 30 to 40 per cent of cases are detected early.
Until a few years ago the standard treatment for these tumours involved the whole of the prostate, which had good results but also caused important side effects, such as incontinence and impotence. Focal therapies, which include electroporation, are seen as an important alternative.
"Medicine wouldn't be a science if we weren't constantly trying to improve treatments for the most common pathologies, and that is how focal therapy began about 10 years ago as a minimally invasive option, especially in low-risk cases. Because only a small area is affected the side effects are minimal compared with traditional therapies," says Dr Schulten.
The doctors stress that a cure can never be guaranteed, but the success rate of electroporation compares well with classic techniques, which are successful in over 90 per cent of cases.