High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a noninvasive treatment that uses sound waves to ablate (destroy) cancer cells with heat. The procedure has been available in Europe for many years and was approved for use in the United States in 2015.
The sound waves are administered using a special rectal probe while the patient is under anesthesia. In this way, clinicians can aim specifically at cancer cells and better protect healthy tissue.
HIFU is done on an outpatient basis, which means patients do not need to be admitted to the hospital. Most patients recover in about a week and can have further prostate cancer treatments if necessary.
Studies have shown that HIFU might have fewer sexual and urinary side effects compared to other treatments like radical prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) or radiation. HIFU allows clinicians to be more precise, with a greater likelihood of preserving nerves needed for erections and bladder function.
Not all men can undergo HIFU, however. The treatment is only for men with localized prostate cancer – confined to the prostate gland itself. It is not appropriate for men whose cancers have spread to other parts of the body. It is also not intended for men with larger prostates.
Patients should also know that HIFU is a complex process that should be done by highly experienced and trained physicians.