Doctors at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital are exploring a new, more precise way of administering radiation therapy to patients with prostate cancer.

Stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy, or SABR, allows doctors to give patients a high dose of radiation in a short period of time, replacing the long hours of treatment commonly associated with radiation therapy.

“What’s really revolutionary about this is that patients used to have to come for up to eight weeks of radiotherapy -- one treatment per day, five days a week,” said Sunnybrook oncologist Andrew Loblaw. “Now with this new trial, we’ve been able to show that you can do that as few as five times.”

SABR trials began in 2006 on low-risk cancer patients. Results were so successful that moderate-risk and even high-risk patients are now included in the testing.

“The preliminary to date show that the impact, in terms of side-effects, are no worse than the standard course of treatment,” said Wiliam Chu, one of the doctors behind the trial.

Survival rates after the treatment are comparable and, in some cases, even better than regular radiotherapy.

And the cost of the five SABR sessions is less than a quarter of the cost of 39 weeks of standard treatment.

Loblaw says the new treatment also benefits patients’ lifestyles.

“It’s very easy to put a 15-minute treatment into your work schedule or your life schedule compared to coming in for 15 to 30 minutes every single day,” he said.

Brad Brown, was offered several therapy option when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but opted for SABR.

“The other (treatments) weren’t terrible attractive,” he said. “Surgery had a long recovery time, some of them were quite expensive, others took a big time commitment.”

Brown has not suffered any negative side-effects while receiving the SABR treatment.

Trials of the SABRE technology are being expanded to several cancer centres across Canada, including Montreal, Calgary, Sudbury, and Winnipeg.

Sunnybrook is the only hospital doing trials with high-risk cancer patients.

With a report from Pauline Chan