High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) uses high frequency ultrasound energy to heat and destroy cancer cells in the prostate. The high frequency sound waves emitted from a HIFU device have the ability to kill cancer cells associated with a single tumor or part of a large tumor. HIFU is not appropriate for cancer that has spread (metastasized) beyond one site in the body. When HIFU is used to treat prostate cancer, the ultrasound waves are sent through the rectum walls, where they generate sufficient heat to destroy cancerous prostate cells. Since it’s still a relatively new procedure it requires a high degree of skill and training, there is still a learning curve with its related adverse effects and complications.
Side Effects Of HIFU
As with all treatments for prostate cancer, HIFU can cause side effects and these will affect each man differently. You’re more likely to get side effects if you have more than one HIFU treatment performed or if you’ve had other treatments for prostate cancer before HIFU. This is because your first treatment may have already damaged the area around your prostate. Potential side effects of HIFU include:
Erectile dysfunction – Some men have problems getting or keeping an erection after HIFU. This is because it can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control erections. For some men this will improve, but for others this will be a longer-term side effect of the treatment.
Urinary incontinence – Most men may experience some urine leakage for several weeks following the procedure, but the condition typically resolves itself within a few months for the vast majority of men.
Rectal fistula – Very rarely, HIFU can cause a hole between the back passage (rectum) and the urethra, which is the tube you urinate through. Signs of a possible rectal fistula include:
- urine coming out of your back passage
- pain in your pelvis or back passage
- bowel contents in your urine
- air bubbles in your urine
Blood or tissue in urine – You might notice some blood in your urine while the catheter is in place. You may also see some small pieces of prostate tissue in your urine for at least six to eight weeks following the procedure. This is normal. However if you are concerned or notice signs of an infection speak to your doctor immediately.
Other potential side effects include:
- Retrograde ejaculation
- Prostate infection
- Urinary stricture
If you are considering HIFU as a treatment strategy for prostate cancer you should seek out a qualified professional who has performed a significant number of the procedures. Also important to note is if you have already had surgery or radiation treatment for prostate cancer, your chances of experiencing side effects is increased if you decide to undergo HIFU.