A pioneering prostate treatment which means tens of thousands of men could be spared major surgery has been given the green light.
NHS watchdogs have approved the new technique to treat one of the most common medical complaints facing older men.
Around half of men over the age of 50 suffer from an enlarged prostate, which can reduce bladder capacity, causing repeated night-time trips to the lavatory.
Mild symptoms can be controlled by drugs, but they can cause side-effects such as loss of libido.
Every year, around 45,000 men undergo surgery to treat an enlarged prostate.
But this requires a general anaesthetic, several days in hospital and can damage sexual function and fertility.
The availability of this procedure could make a real difference to the lives of men up and down the country
Professor Kevin Harris
The new technique, which can be done as a day case, uses tiny plastic beads to block the blood supply and shrink the enlarged gland.
Until now, it was only available as part of research trials.
Now the National Institute for Care and Excellence (Nice) has approved the treatment – called prostate artery embolization – for routine use, after considering its safety and effectiveness.
Surgeons said they hoped it would be available across the country within two years.
Dr Nigel Hacking, who led a study into the effectiveness of the treatment, said it would act as a “bridge” between drugs and surgery, bringing help to tens of thousands of men suffering distressing problems on a daily basis.
He said: “Around half of men over the age of 50 will suffer from an enlarged prostate – and around half of them could benefit from treatment. By the time you get to the age of 80, around 80 per cent of men will suffer from this, so we are talking about a lot of men.”
Traditional surgery cuts away part of the prostate gland, in order to reduce pressure on the bladder.
The new procedure involves injecting hundreds of small plastic beads into a blood vessel in the groin.
Using a thin tube, medics direct the beads towards the prostate and block its blood supply so that it shrinks, alleviating pressure on the bladder.
Experts said the new technique means patients could avoid the risks of a general anaesthetic, surgery or a long stay in hospital, as well as inducing less anxiety in patients.
The procedure is likely to cost the NHS around £2,500 per patient, in line with the costs of surgery, with possible savings from shorter hospital stays.
Professor Kevin Harris, clinical director from Nice’s interventional procedures programme, said the procedure could transform lives, particularly for those not suitable for current forms of treatment.
This is good news for tens of thousands of men who can now have the choice of this therapy alongside drugs or surgery
Dr Nigel Hacking
He said: “The advantage of this is you don’t need a general anaesthetic or a spinal anaesthetic. It means treatment is available for men who aren’t fit enough for surgery or for an anaesthetic, it means not having bits of your prostate chipped away, and the risk of bleeding and indeed the risk of an anaesthetic.
“The availability of this procedure could make a real difference to the lives of men up and down the country.”
Currently the treatment is only available at 18 NHS centres, as part of research trials.
Dr Hacking, a consultant interventional radiologist at University Hospital Southampton, said he hoped the go-ahead from Nice would see it offered at around 50 centres within two years.
“This is good news for tens of thousands of men who can now have the choice of this therapy alongside drugs or surgery,” he said.
“Results from the study show prostate artery embolization can help large numbers of men suffering with the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
“It is a particularly good option for men who are not yet ready to undergo more invasive prostate surgery. Maintaining sexual function and fertility is one of its main strengths,” he added.