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More than 200,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States this year. But despite the number of treatment options, many men will undergo radical surgery without considering other, less invasive procedures that might be just as effective.
One reason men don't learn of other options is that prostate cancer patients typically are referred to urological surgeons. Many of the newer treatment possibilities are performed by other physicians, such as radiation oncologists.
Millions of men of the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, will start turning 60 in the next few years. Many of these men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and its likely their biggest fear about prostate cancer treatment is whether it will render them impotent.
However, a recent 10-year study released by Loma Linda University Medical Center in southern, California, on men treated with proton therapy offers them a considerable advantage over unwanted side effects that often occur with radical surgery or other forms of radiation treatment.
Proton therapy is the most precise, and the most advanced form of radiation treatment. The physical properties of protons, compared to standard x-ray radiation, allows for the ionization of the tumor site, while leaving surrounding healthy tissue and organs intact.
Standard x-ray radiation therapy often radiates healthy cells and tissue in its path and surrounding the tumor. Sparing unwanted side effects is much harder to control with standard radiation. Proton therapy offers superior control along with the potential for higher doses to improve long-term results.
Proton therapy has extended its reach in the number of clinical centers that offer the therapy, in the number and types of cancers being treated with it, and in the number of patients receiving the treatment. Besides Loma Linda, the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute at Indiana University, and the Northeast Proton Center at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital are treating patients. Centers in development include: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Shands Jacksonville, Florida Medical Center; and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
The Loma Linda study looked at 1,255 men treated for prostate cancer during the 1990s. It was published in the International Journal of Radiation and Oncology on June 1, 2004. Loma Linda analyzed results of proton radiation therapy for localized cancer, with emphasis on biochemical freedom and relapse.
The study concluded that proton therapy at the reported dose levels yielded disease-free survival rates comparable with other forms of local therapy, and with minimal to no side effects or morbidity. Proton therapy especially compares well to radical surgery without unwanted long term problems. Long-term survival outcomes were comparable to those reported for other modalities intended for cure. The key treatment advantage with protons is the lack of commonly known side effects.
Treatment time with proton therapy has declined in the past 10 years with some treatments for patients with cancer requiring as little as one treatment. As technology continues to improve, specialists expect proton therapy to be used to treat more advanced stages of various types of cancer in the future.
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