Sound Health: New radiation treatments for prostate cancer show promise
A doctor who specializes in treating cancer patients says new studies on radiation therapy for prostate cancer show promise.
Patrick Fernandes is a radiation oncologist at the Carle Cancer Institute in Normal. In this edition of Sound Health, Fernandes said early studies have shown that radiation treatments for prostate cancer can be done in one week instead of the current six to eight weeks.
“I think this is something which we may see in the not-too-distant future,” Fernandes declared.
Fernandes said radiation is far more precise than it was 10 to 20 years ago when radiation equipment was “primitive.” That makes the procedure more effective at removing the cancer and limiting tissue damage, he said.
“Thankfully over the last decade or so, our machines have improved with computer technology. We are now able to deliver radiation much more precisely, much more compact,” he said.
Fernandes said the cancer institute in Normal has the technology to perform the more frequent radiation treatments, but he cautioned he still has concerns that studies have yet to address. “What we don’t know is the long-term side effects,” Fernandes said. “We also have to look at the quality of life. What will happen five years down the road, 10 years down the road with regard to toxicity.”
Prostate cancer myths
Fernandes ticked off a list of myths he said many people have when it comes to prostate cancer. He said its untrue that prostate cancer surgery will cause urine leakage or end a man’s sex life.
“That used to be true a decade or two ago. Nowadays with superior surgical techniques, including robotic procedures, the incidence of urinary leakage is extremely low in expert hands,” he said.
Fernandes added it’s a myth that only elderly people get prostate cancer. He said patients as young as 45 are at risk, especially if they have a family history of the cancer or are African-American. People of color have a higher rate of prostate cancer. He said men should talk to their doctor by age 45 about whether they should get an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. He noted the American Cancer Society backtracked on recommendations that waiting longer to get a prostate exam would reduce false positives and potentially unnecessary and costly treatments. Fernandes said that led to too many cancers not being detected in time.
Fernandes said very high PSA levels does not necessarily mean a patient has prostate cancer. He said it could just be prostate inflammation or infection that could be treated with antibiotics.
Fernandes said prostate cancer treatment, which is usually either surgery or radiation, does not have to begin immediately, because it’s such a slow-growing cancer. He said in some instances, the cancer can simply be monitored to see if it grows.
Fernandes stressed prostate cancer is not a death sentence. He noted survival rates are over 90% and the rate is much better if its detected early.
“Most cancer patients do well and live healthy, long lives,” he said.
Fernandes noted nearly 200,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. That makes it the second most common cancer behind skin cancer.