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What Is HIFU?


Updated August 31, 2009

What Is HIFU?

HIFU stands for High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. It is a technology that utilizes ultrasound waves that have been focused onto a very small area to generate intense heat at that site.

How Does HIFU Work?

For treatment of conditions of the prostate, a transrectal ultrasound is used to deliver the ultrasound waves to the prostate. When the ultrasound waves are focused on a specific point within the prostate or other tissue intended to be treated, a great deal of heat is generated resulting in thermal ablation and death of the cells at that site.

How Has It Been Used to Treat the Prostate?

HIFU has been used to treat BPH since the 1990s. It has been used to treat prostate cancer in some countries for roughly the last 5-10 years. It is not currently approved by the FDA for treating prostate cancer in the United States.

HIFU is a local therapy – meaning that it can only treat BPH, cancer, or any other condition in a limited area (such as within the prostate itself). It cannot treat prostate cancer or any other condition that has spread throughout the body. Only systemic therapies such as hormonal therapy or chemotherapy are available when a disease is widespread.

Where Is HIFU Approved for Treating Prostate Cancer?

HIFU is approved for the treatment of prostate cancer in Europe, Mexico, much of South and Central America, China, and Japan.

It is not approved for treating prostate cancer in the United States.

Has HIFU Been Studied Extensively?

HIFU has undergone some study, but not as much as other treatment options such as surgery and radiation therapy which have been widely used and studied for decades. There are several larger, longer-term studies currently ongoing that may help shed some light on the long-term benefits and drawbacks to HIFU.


Haar GT, Coussios C. High Intensity Focused Ultrasound: Physical principles and devices. Int J. Hyperthermia 2007; 23(2):89-104

Kennedy J, Ter Haar G, Cranston D. "High intensity focused ultrasound: surgery of the future?". Br J Radiol 76 (909): 590–9.

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