Lifewatch: Proton therapy

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - One in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, but doctors say it can be very treatable if caught early.

Until now, size was an issue for some of the most high-tech treatments to treat the cancer, but doctors found a way to make proton therapy an option for just about everyone.

"I was ready to go to the Chicago Bears that year but they thought I needed to grow a little bit," said prostate cancer patient Gene Hagerman.

Gene has been a big guy ever since his college football days.

"Obese they call us, but I think of us as large people," said Gene.

When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his size got in the way of the treatment he needed.  At nearly 400 pounds, with 63" hips - proton therapy wasn't an option.

"They were screening people based on size of hips," said Gene.  "Obviously, my height and weight eliminated me."

The therapy uses proton beams to kill cancer cells.  It's more precise than radiation and has fewer side effects, but there were limits on how far the beam would penetrate into the body.

In the past, the beam scattered protons which limited how far they could travel in the body.  Using a technique called uniform scanning, doctors direct a sharper proton beam into the body, which penetrates deeper with better accuracy.

After eight weeks of treatment, Gene's tumor shrank in half. Now he's staying active and is grateful his cancer treatment didn't discriminate.

Uniform scanning is also an option for patients with large tumors that are close to vital organs.

Along with prostate cancer, doctors hope to soon use if for brain, spine, head, and neck tumors.

For more information, please contact:
University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute
2015 North Jefferson St.
Jacksonville, FL  32206
(904) 588-1800
(877) 686-6009

BACKGROUND: In traditional radiation therapy for cancer treatment, a patient is exposed to X-rays.  As they pass through both healthy and cancerous tissue, X-rays leave a path of damage.  It helps destroy tumors but also may cause damage to the surrounding tissue.  Proton therapy has benefits over conventional therapy in the treatment of many common cancers, such as prostate cancer, lung cancer, cancers of the eye and cancer in children.  Protons are more precise than X-rays and cause less damage in the body.  Protons deposit the majority of their destructive energy at the tumor site.  Normal, healthy tissue receives less exposure to radiation, resulting in fewer side effects.

NEW ADVANCE:  Doctors at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute are using a new technique called uniform scanning.  It moves a single beam of protons in a sweeping or scanning motion, enabling the beam to reach deeper into the body and cover a wider area than traditional proton therapy.  This allows proton therapy to be an option for men with prostate cancer who have a hip circumference of more than 50 inches and for sarcoma patients with tumors larger than 9.4 inches.  Uniform scanning will also help patients with tumors in the head and neck, brain or spinal column since it can hit the target area more efficiently without hurting vital organs.  "With proton therapy, our ability to precisely deliver radiation to the tumor without damaging normal healthy tissue is the main advantage for all patients," Nancy Mendenhall, M.D., medical director of the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville, Fla., was quoted as saying.  "Uniform scanning takes us to the next step in improving delivery of protons, eventually leading to more intense and fewer doses and the potential to further decrease risk of complications."

PROSTATE CANCER:  Prostate cancer occurs when cells within the prostate grow uncontrollably, creating small tumors.  It is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting one in 6 men.  A non-smoking man is more likely to develop prostate cancer than he is to develop colon, bladder, melanoma, lymphoma and kidney cancers combined.  A man is 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer.  In 2009, more than 192,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 27,000 men will die from the disease.  One new case occurs every 2.7 minutes.  It is estimated there are more than 2 million American men currently living with prostate cancer.

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