What Is HIFU and How Does It Work?

The acronym HIFU stands for High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. This is a highly precise ablation technique utilizing the power of sound waves to heat and destroy tissue deep within the body. When used to treat prostate cancer, the technique allows for pinpoint accuracy in targeting and destroying the glandular tissue and the cancer it contains.

Understanding the Science

HIFU works on the same basic scientific principle found in an elementary-level science experiment using the sun and a magnifying glass. When you focus rays of sunlight through a magnifying glass at just the right angle, a leaf a short distance away from the lens will burn. You can safely pass your hand through the light at any other point in the beam, but at that one location, the light is powerful enough to burn the leaf. That spot is called the focal point, and the intense heat occurs because the individual rays of light are focused onto one precise location.

In HIFU, the doctor does the same thing, but uses ultrasound waves instead of light waves. In place of the magnifying glass, HIFU uses a transducer to deliver and focus the sound waves. The sound waves, like the light waves, are harmless except at the focal point, where they join together quickly heat the tissue to the point of destruction. The individual rays do not damage the surrounding tissue as they pass through it.

Ultrasound wave also work to capture images of the tissue, and during HIFU, physicians use the same transducer to capture real-time images of the gland. This allows them to map the treatment and execute it precisely, making changes to customize the treatment when needed in response to each patient’s body’s reaction.

What to Expect

For most patients, HIFU lasts between one and four hours. The procedure is done one time under spinal anesthesia on an outpatient basis. Because it is non-ionizing, it can be repeated or used as a salvage treatment when needed.