Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer to afflict men in Canada, with around 1 in 7 being diagnosed at some point in their life. The advance of medical science has meant that survival rates are increasing all the time, and for men below the age of 69, who are diagnosed early, the survival rate is between 91%-94%. This is partially because of the nature of the cancer, but partially due to advances in medical techniques, equipment and treatments.
One of the most common techniques used to treat prostate cancer is brachytherapy, which is a technique that, despite being first used by Pierre Curie in 1901, has come into it’s own in recent years, due to the advances in medical technology.
Essentially, brachytherapy involves placing a source of radiation near to a tumor in order to specifically target and kill cancer cells. Of course, any form of radiotherapy comes with risks, and the deployment of tiny titanium tubing, used in brachytherapy as ‘seed’ pods, has been a major development.
Titanium has a number of attributes that make it highly suitable for this type of procedure; it is incredibly strong and durable, it is biocompatible and it is non-magnetic. The fact that it’s biocompatible, that the human body can tolerate its presence is crucial, as seed pods are filled, usually, with Palladium-103 or Iodine-125, and delivered into the body, surrounding the prostate. As the radioactive material decays, the titanium seed pods become inert, and their biocompatibility means that they are not only inert but benign. The fact that it is non-magnetic is crucial given the rise of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Designed as non-invasive diagnostic, an MRI would prove catastrophic if metallic medical implants were magnetic.
Further advances in medical technology means that the accuracy of brachytherapy delivery has been improved, particularly by the deployment of robotic delivery systems. In 2005, the first robotic system was introduced, allowing for incredibly precise synchronization of the needle insertion and imaging work, which, in turn, eliminates the margin for human error.
The fight against cancer is a constantly evolving one, and the smallest innovations can lead to enormous gains: the capacity to manufacture tiny titanium seeds that can be filled with radioactive material and injected strategically around the prostate is one of the reasons that, despite being the most common cancer among men, prostate cancer is also among the least deadly.