A revolutionary treatment for prostate cancer is now available in Northern Ireland — saving the NHS tens of thousands of pounds as patients no longer have to travel to England.
It is estimated about 50 men each year will be treated at Belfast City Hospital instead of going to Leeds for the life-saving treatment which cost the health service in Northern Ireland several thousand pounds per patient.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey officially opened the new regional Prostate Brachytherapy Service yesterday which will ease distress and inconvenience for patients, while reducing the financial burden to the NHS.
Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Northern Ireland and the second most common cause of cancer-related death in men, with 215 people dying every year.
About 800 men are given the devastating news they have prostate cancer every year but the new treatment, known as brachytherapy, could be suitable for up to 50 patients each year.
Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy in which delivery of radiation is targeted directly to the prostate gland through small radioactive pellets.
Patients who receive the radical treatment undergo a small surgical procedure under general anaesthetic but recovery is quick and allows men to return to their normal daily routine within days.
Needles are inserted through
the skin of the perineum, delivering the pellets, which give off radiation at a low dose over several weeks or months, remaining in the prostate gland permanently.
It is suitable for men where the tumour is confined to the prostate.
The minister said: “This life- saving service is as effective in treating prostate cancer as surgery or radiotherapy in men who are suitable for treatment. Brachytherapy treatment takes only one or two days and recovery is quick, with patients being able to return to normal activities soon after treatment.”
He also paid tribute to the charity Men Against Cancer (MAC) which donated money to help cover the cost of equipment.
There is no screening programme for prostate cancer in Northern Ireland.