Profiling Prostate Cancer: Read Brian's Story
One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, making it the second most prevalent cancer diagnosis in men, following skin cancer.
Many men have difficulty identifying prostate cancer early. While urinary symptoms and impotence may occur as the cancer grows, some men have no symptoms at all. And, some symptoms can be mistaken with those related to other common problems, such as hypertension and diabetes. For those who suspect prostate cancer may be the cause of their trouble, a digital rectal exam and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test may be ordered. Men with prostate cancer typically exhibit increased PSA blood levels.
Surgery Not Always the Answer
Treatment for prostate cancer varies, depending on the specific diagnosis, but an option for men with early stage prostate cancer is external beam radiation given with techniques called IMRT (intensity modulated radiotherapy) and IGRT (image-guided radiotherapy), a non-invasive alternative to surgery. IMRT uses sophisticated 3-D computer mapping of the prostate to deliver high doses of radiation to treat cancerous cells without damaging nearby healthy tissue. IGRT is the process of accurately positioning a patient for IMRT therapy.
At The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), radiation oncologist Michael McKenna, MD, employs a technique that uses gold markers implanted in the prostate prior to treatment to mark the tumor location. CINJ Hamilton was the first cancer treatment center in the greater Trenton area to use this technique.
How IMRT/IGRT Therapy Works
The gold markers are placed by a urologist as an outpatient procedure or even in the comfort of the doctor's office. These implanted seeds work with an imaging software program that allows the physician to identify the position of the seeds daily and position the patient precisely for treatment. After the markers heal in place, Dr. McKenna designs the tailored treatment and the patient receives 39 treatments which are scheduled five days a week for about eight weeks.
Dr. McKenna assures each patient that the visits are quick and painless. "Patients are typically in and out of the facility in half an hour."
Treatment Without Side Effects
The benefit of targeted radiation is that the effect on healthy, normal tissue surrounding the cancer is minimal. "With IMRT/IGRT, we are able to provide lower doses to normal tissues, which reduces the side effects," explains McKenna.
"In my 20 years experience treating prostate cancer patients, the side effects with IMRT seem to be fewer than with other therapies," maintains McKenna. They may include mild urinary or bowel symptoms that typically resolve after treatment. Only a small fraction of men will have mild inflammatory changes in the rectum that may require future management.
A Call to Action
To catch prostate cancer early, when IMRT/IGRT therapy can be effective, McKenna recommends that men should have routine screenings starting by age 50, sooner if there is a family history of the disease.
"It's cancer, it's not supposed to be there, so let's get rid of it," Brian recalls his reaction to a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Brian and his wife Roseanne turned to CINJ Hamilton seven years ago, when she was treated for breast cancer. "My wife credits Dr. McKenna with saving her life." So when Brian's urologist informed him that he had prostate cancer, the Hamilton resident knew what to do.
After consulting with physicians, he spoke to others who had a similar diagnosis to learn about his treatment options, ultimately deciding to pursue external radiation. He began treatment, making the short trip to CINJ Hamilton five days a week for a total of eight weeks.
Brian found the treatment to be pain free and relatively easy. "The staff explained the possible side effects, but the only effect that I had was being tired and weary," he explains. Thankfully, he's starting to feel like his old self again. "I'm getting my energy back," he says.
His advice to men about prostate cancer is simple, "Don't wait and see, be proactive."