Depending on the time of diagnosis and the extent of the tumor, as well as patient-specific factors such as age and pre-existing conditions, prostate tumors are treated by surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation therapy. Sometimes a combination of these treatments is also necessary.
In patients whose prostate cancer is small, very slow growing, has a low histologic grade of cancer cell differentiation (Gleason Score), and does not cause symptoms, the tumor is often only monitored regularly. This means that the patient comes to the clinic for close-meshed control examinations, where the PSA level is monitored and imaging diagnostics (ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging) and tissue sampling from the prostate (control biopsies) are performed regularly. No specific treatment is given. This active monitoring is called “active surveillance” (watch and wait).
In a procedure called prostatectomy, the entire prostate gland is surgically removed. There are various surgical techniques for this, including surgery with the robot, which is used as standard at the USZ. We use the latest Da Vinci technology as a surgical system for this purpose. Here, the operation is performed endoscopically, i.e. minimally invasive through several small incisions and with the help of thin special instruments. As far as possible, “nerve-sparing” surgery can be performed to reduce side effects such as impotence and incontinence.
More about robotic surgery
High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)
With this focal therapy, the tumor is destroyed in a targeted and gentle manner without affecting the surrounding tissue. The prostate remains as a functioning organ. In HIFU treatment, ultrasound waves heat the tumor tissue to 90 degrees Celsius and ” boil away” the cancer cells in the prostate. The ultrasound waves are very precisely bundled (focused) in one place and destroy the tumor focus with millimeter precision. This procedure can be used for localized moderately aggressive prostate cancer. HIFU is particularly gentle in comparison and has a lower risk of side effects such as unwanted urinary leakage (incontinence) or erectile dysfunction (impotence).
HIFU therapy for prostate cancer
In this method, high-energy radiation is directed at the prostate tumor to kill tumor cells. This form of treatment is also called radiation therapy or radiotherapy. It is equivalent to surgery and may be given instead, or it may be used after surgery as so-called adjuvant or salvage therapy later in the course.
Prostate cancer radiotherapy
Technically correct terms are anti-hormone therapy, hormone deprivation therapy or hormone deprivation treatment. In order to grow, prostate cancer cells need male sex hormones, so-called androgens such as testosterone. Hormone deprivation therapy attempts to withdraw these hormones from the cells through medication and thus stop the progression of the cancer. It is important to note that hormone deprivation therapy alone can often slow down tumor growth in prostate cancer for years, but a cure is not possible.
Various drugs with different modes of action are available for anti-hormone therapy and are used as injections or in tablet form. There are medications that lower testosterone levels in the blood. Other drugs prevent the growth-promoting effect of testosterone on cells; however, they do not affect the concentration of testosterone in the blood.
Since testosterone is produced in the testicles, it is also possible to lower hormone levels by surgically removing the testicles (orchiectomy). However, this procedure is irreversible, unlike regular medication.
As with other types of cancer, chemotherapy (cytostatic drugs) for prostate tumors is intended to cause the cytostatic drugs to prevent the cancer cells from dividing. This can slow or stop the growth of prostate cancer. Chemotherapy is given in addition to anti-hormone therapy in the metastatic stage. It is the drugs docetaxel and cabazitaxel that can be administered.
In some patients, the tumor cells have a specific change in the genes, known as a BRCA mutation. Patients with metastatic disease who have this alteration can receive targeted therapy with so-called PARP inhibitors (drug olaparib).
Lutetium PSMA ligand therapy
This is a form of treatment for patients with a metastatic tumor. Here, a radioactive substance is injected, which is transported to the tumor cell via a carrier and thus specifically kills the tumor cell.
Cancer cells originating from the prostate usually carry prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) on the cell surface. PSMA is present in small amounts on the surface of healthy prostate cells, but much more on cancer cells. Like a magnet, the PSMA serves as a docking site for the carrier that transports the radioactive therapeutic substance (lutetium-177). The therapeutic substance travels via the bloodstream directly to the tumor tissue and leads to targeted irradiation of the malignant cells.