January 24, 2007 (WLS) -- More precise with less side effects. That's the promise of a prostate cancer treatment many patients don't even know exist.
It's called high dose rate brachytherapy, and it's a way of bombarding the cancer with radiation while sparing surrounding organs and tissue from damage. Only a handful of centers offer this treatment, but some area doctors think it's a procedure more men need to seek out.
Thurmon Ware Jr. is a loader at UPS and does a fair amount of lifting. So when he found out last November that he had prostate cancer, the 50-year-old started searching for a surgery-free treatment that would allow him to get back to work fast.
"I really wanted to get back to work during the Christmas rush," said Ware, who did make it back to work in time.
Thurmon ended up at Little Company of Mary Hospitalin suburban Evergreen Park. It's one of the few centers in the area doing a procedure called high dose rate, or HDR brachytherapy.
You may have heard of the implant version of brachytherapy. Radioactive seeds are permanently placed in the prostate where they deliver radiation to kill tumor cells for several weeks. But those seeds can shift out of position and migrate through the blood stream to other parts of the body. HDR is billed as a safer alternative.
"It's basically taking a seed implant and making it much better," said Dr. Paul Song, radiation oncologist, Little Company of Mary Hospital.
Radiation oncologist Paul Song explains that, instead of seeds, tiny plastic catheters are temporarily placed into the prostate gland. With the help of high speed computers, doctors can now map out a very precise dose of radiation, avoiding surrounding healthy tissue.
"That limits radiation dose to the urethra and rectum," said Song. "And the other thing that we are starting to realize is that we can custom tailor the dose so that we reduce the dose to the nerves that supply potency to patients."
Overall there are fewer side effects and doctors say that's one of the biggest pluses of this procedure. They also say it's as effective as other treatments, and recent studies now suggest prostate cancer cells may respond better to large doses of radiation, which is what HDR delivers.
The procedure does require an overnight stay but no general anesthesia. Patients get a spinal epidural before the catheters are inserted and they're awake for everything.
Allen Berry says the catheters are easy to deal with.
"I don't have no pain and he only did this three or four hours ago," said Allen Berry, prostate cancer patient.
Once the catheters are in place, the radiation travels through the plastic tubes right to the prostate. When the treatment is over, the catheters are removed.
Getting the radiation only takes about 12 minutes and patients feel nothing. Some may need more than one treatment.
Thurmon Ware was back to work within 10 days. Other patients are able to resume work or exercise the very next day.
"Anyone that's a candidate to have their prostate removed or to have a seed implant is a candidate of high dose radiation," said Dr. Song.
HRD brachytherapy has been around for about 10 years and is FDA approved. It's really geared towards patients with low to moderate risk of prostate cancer.
So how come more centers don't offer it? Other doctors we spoke with say the procedure is more labor intensive, the unit is very expensive, and it requires special training, and many doctors feel that other treatments are just as good.
Centers Doing HDR Brachytherapy
Little Company of Mary Hospital and health care centers
2600 W. 95TH St.
Evergreen Park, IL 60805
Advocate Lutheran General Hospital
1775 Dempster St.
Park Ridge, IL 60069
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
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